April 01, 2015
Supporting Access to Susquehanna
Dear Alumni and Friends
Colleagues often hear me say that my lunches with students are my weekly affirmation of vocation. The lunches have been a tradition of mine since my earliest years as a college president, borrowed from the practice of one of my mentors at Texas A&M University.
While the work of the presidency frequently takes me away from campus and keeps me from teaching as often as I would like, these experiences with students always remind me of what a blessing and privilege it is to serve them.
The lift I get from these encounters with students is not surprising, given that I am a teacher at heart and a person who delights in seeing students transformed from tentative first-years to confident graduates. Again and again, I’ve seen that maturation in our students and, more personally, in two of my own children-my eldest will soon be a college graduate and my second daughter will soon be a rising college junior. And, although it’s been more than 30 years, I can still recall the changes that took place in me as an undergraduate at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
I am extremely proud that any high-achieving student, regardless of socio-economic background, can be admitted to Susquehanna and has an opportunity to experience this type of personal evolution. Providing access to qualified students from all financial circumstances has been part of the university’s DNA since its earliest days. We were founded as a place where students from modest means could answer the call to become Lutheran pastors. That was a pretty revolutionary notion in the middle of the 19th century, but it set the course for
Susquehanna and continues to fuel our educational vision today.
Given our longtime commitment to providing access and opportunity to all students, my colleagues and I were thrilled last September to see Susquehanna included among the top 10 in a New York Times list of 100 economically diverse campuses that boast graduation rates of at least 75 percent. The objective of the Times piece was to look at economic diversity among the most selective schools and we were very happy to find ourselves at the top of that very short list. To put things in perspective, there are 4,500 U.S. colleges and universities, so appearing anywhere on the Times list would have put us in a very elite group.
Susquehanna’s ninth position on the list is all the more impressive considering that the other highly ranked schools have much larger endowments. At number 6, Harvard’s endowment per student of $1.52 million is more than 30 times larger than Susquehanna’s endowment per student of $50,000.
Between 2012 and 2014, Susquehanna’s percentage of low-income freshmen-25 percent- was the highest on the Times list. Among the 100 schools ranked on the newspaper’s economic diversity index, only 10 had first-year classes in which more than 20 percent were Pell recipients, reserved for those from families with high levels of demonstrated need.
Although higher education is the primary avenue for social mobility, at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities, affluent students outnumber those who are economically disadvantaged by more than 10 to 1. Contrast that with Susquehanna, where in 2014, 80 percent of the incoming class received need-based aid. Yes, here we are committed to continuing our practice of providing access to a first-rate university education to students who couldn’t afford to be here without our help. For us, this is the truest expression of democracy-that a student’s ability to pay doesn’t limit his ability to obtain an exceptional college education.
Unfortunately, we cannot completely meet each student’s full, demonstrated financial need. That’s our challenge: We are better at providing access, but our modest endowment limits the resources we have to fund needy students. I’ve expanded on this dilemma in a white paper, included in this issue of Susquehanna Currents, which I invite you to read at your leisure.
With very best wishes,
L. Jay Lemons, President