After more than a quarter century on the Hill, Senior Vice President Angelo Araimo moves into the corner office
Angelo Araimo was born in 1960 to working-class parents in Queens, the middle son of three boys. “We always saw ourselves as middle-class growing up,” Angelo said. “We never wanted for anything. We knew we didn’t have a lot of money, but somehow it always seemed to work.” He was a first-generation college student, graduating from St. John’s University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. Angelo met his wife Mary after they had both graduated and were working as UPS couriers in the World Trade Center. They married in 1988.
“We used to go back every year and stay at the Vista International Hotel at the World Trade Center, until 9/11,” Angelo said.
Mary, who had graduated from Fordham University, became a teacher.
“I was going to be a teacher, too,” Angelo said. “That’s why I had enrolled in a doctoral program. I’d started at NYU, but then I got offered a teaching fellowship at St. John’s, which made it free and also gave me the opportunity to see if I liked teaching.”
Angelo taught for two years at St. John’s, two courses a semester — and, like many young academics, he “jumped jobs all over the city,” he said. “Some semesters, I was teaching five courses.”
One of the schools at which he taught was St. Joseph’s College, in Brooklyn, “and that’s actually where I got into administration,” he said. “One day Sister Margaret, the academic dean, asked me if I’d like to recruit a little; they needed more men after going co-ed in 1980. I said, ‘Sure! I like talking to people.’ ”
A year later, Sister Margaret asked Angelo if he would like to become admissions director — and, at the age of 29, he agreed.
“She said they needed 70 to 100 more students,” Angelo recalled. “I thought, ‘I can do that by knocking on doors!’ Well, it was really hard, but we did it.
“I was director of admissions there for about four years, and I found I enjoyed it — but I also started to wonder. I didn’t think I was going to become a college professor, so I got away from my doctorate. I was a classic A.B.D.,” Angelo said — a doctoral student who had completed all his coursework, all his exams, all but dissertation. “I just didn’t have enough passion for any one thing to do it right.”
Then came 1993, a year of decision for Angelo Araimo. “I was ready to enroll in law school at the University of Wisconsin,” Angelo said. “In April, I gave St. Joseph’s notice.”
But over the summer, family complications arose that made it necessary for the Araimos to stay in New York.
Angelo found a teaching job at the Garden School in Queens, where he was to start that fall — but he also saw an ad in the New York Times for a job as admissions director at Wagner College, for which he applied. The interview was positive — but after several weeks, he hadn’t gotten a call back.
“I started the teaching job and figured, that was that,” he recalled. “And then I got a call in mid-October saying, ‘We’d like you to come in and meet with President Smith.’ ”
Angelo finished out the semester at the Garden School and, in January 1994, started working as admissions director at Wagner, later becoming dean of admissions.
In 1995, son Christopher Araimo was born to Mary and Angelo, followed in 1997 by daughter Catherine.
In 2005, Angelo Araimo was named vice president for enrollment and planning, a portfolio that was later expanded to include institutional advancement, a fancy term for fundraising in higher education. Over the years, Angelo has overseen Wagner’s offices of admissions, alumni relations, financial aid, athletics, extension programs, institutional research, and communications and marketing.
It was therefore no big surprise this October, with the announcement of President Joel W. Martin’s impending resignation at the end December, when the trustees asked Senior Vice President Angelo Araimo to step in as interim president.
To ensure the college’s stability, Angelo was asked to serve in the president’s office at least through the 2022-23 school year.
Angelo Araimo acknowledged that most presidential transitions don’t happen in the middle of a semester, making this one especially challenging. This transition came at a particularly crucial time, just a couple of weeks before the conclusion of two major undertakings: the search for a new provost, and the college’s reaccreditation.
“But I’ve been here for a long time,” Angelo said, “and I was the senior vice president, so Joel [Martin] and I met more than anyone else. I was already involved in both of those things.”
The provost search and the reaccreditation were two factors in the trustees’ decision to ask Angelo to immediately assume the responsibilities of president, rather than wait for Joel Martin’s resignation to take effect at the end of the year.
One of the things that happen at the conclusion of a reaccreditation evaluation is that the accreditation committee usually gives the school a series of recommendations for better performance.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education “is going to give us these recommendations,” Angelo explained, “so why not have them given to you, since you’re going to have to implement them?
“The same went for the provost search. … The idea was to let them [the final candidates] get to know me, the president they would be working with, and me get to know them, and be really transparent with the three finalists. That’s the first thing I did.”
“Five minutes after I was told [about the transition], I called Ruth Shoemaker and told her what was happening,” Angelo said. Ruth Shoemaker Wood, managing director for the firm Storbeck Search, was handling our provost search. “Can you get me a Zoom call with the three finalists?”
All three candidates said they would remain in the search.
During their campus visits, Angelo, Interim Provost Nick Richardson and three faculty members had dinner with the candidates each night before they delivered their in-person vision talks to interested members of the campus community. Afterward, Angelo met with the search committee to gather input.
“All I did there was listen,” he said, “and then I thanked them for what they had done, because I thought they really presented us with three great finalists. And then, ultimately, I made the decision.
“In one way, it was a difficult decision — but it was not difficult to the extent that there was real unanimity about which one rose completely to the top: Tarshia Stanley.”
With the provost search and the accreditation report out of the way, Angelo was able to turn his attention to the two enduring challenges of the Wagner College presidency: enrollment and fundraising, both of which provide us with the resources we need to fulfill our mission.
Covid, of course, had created major enrollment challenges for Wagner College. Travel restrictions had reduced enrollment from other states and countries. Health-safety rules preventing campus visits had further reduced enrollment, particularly in areas that depend on in-person interviews or auditions like our physician assistant and theater-performance programs.
But Wagner’s biggest enrollment challenges predate Covid.
“The challenges are not surprising, but they’re there,” Angelo said. “People talked about Covid, Covid, Covid as if it created all these problems in higher education. Of course it did, over the very short term, but what it really did in higher ed is exacerbate problems that already existed.
“There were already these tremendous enrollment challenges for small colleges, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, because of changing demographics.”
There are several steps that many small colleges take when faced with enrollment challenges: beefing up enrollment efforts, increasing their “discount” (as college-provided financial aid is often called), looking for more local students, and lowering admissions standards.
Angelo ruled out the last one.
“We increased the discount and lowered standards once before in our history,” he said, “and that brought us to the edge of bankruptcy.
“Yes, we’ll be bringing in more local students, because we think we have great appeal to them — but our admissions recruiters are also going back on the road, and I think New York continues to be a place students want to come.
“I think our greatest opportunity,” Angelo said, “is to invest in the programs where Wagner already has a strong reputation, programs that students around the country want to major in right now: health sciences, the performing and visual arts, and business.”
It’s easier to increase the college’s available resources by growing enrollment, Angelo explained, than through fundraising — but both are critically important.
“Adding 100 residential students to our enrollment generates $4 million in revenue, after financial aid and everything else,” he said. “With 300 more, you can start to make real investments — so that’s our goal for the next five to seven years, and it’s not an unrealistic one.”
By contrast, he said, “you have to raise $80 million to generate $4 million a year in endowment income,” a fact that shapes the college’s planning priorities — the first of which is, therefore, enrollment growth.
“Number two,” Angelo said, “we need to invest in our facilities and our faculty in order to grow enrollment.”
Key to those investments, he explained, is a debt restructuring exercise currently underway that will allow the college to finance a range of deferred maintenance projects.
“Number three,” he said, “we need to then launch a fundraising campaign where we target things that we simply can’t do through tuition dollars or debt restructuring.”
Scholarships and endowed faculty positions would be two particular targets of such an endowment campaign, he said.
“I think there’s an appetite among our alumni for helping students who are first-generation,” Angelo said, “and I think that’s great, because so many of our alums were first-generation.”
And that’s where our interview ended: looking to the future of the college that Angelo Araimo is now charged to lead.