After speaking to the Senior Leadership Academy, as I mentioned in my last post, I went on the the annual meeting of the Annapolis Group.
This gathering of the presidents of America’s national, selective, liberal arts colleges is always a refreshing opportunity to compare notes, pick brains, and hear from engaging speakers. Topics on our minds last week included how alumni assess their undergraduate experiences — did you know that 72% of liberal arts college graduates are “completely satisfied” with the quality of their educations, and compared to 41% of “Top 50″ public university graduates? (This according to research conducted by Hardwick~Day.) Law professor Theodore M. Shaw gave an interesting and timely summary of case law on issues of diversity and affirmative action, and White House Senior Adviser Zakiya Smith offered the presidents some insight into the Obama administration’s higher education agenda.
One of the regular features of this meeting is an update from David Warren, of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, on important policy issues affecting all of higher education. Financial aid is, of course, one essential item of importance to colleges, families, and taxpayers alike.
Private institutions benefit enormously from federal programs that help students afford college. For example, did you know that 169 Sweet Briar students receive support from Pell Grants? Between Pell Grants, FSEOG grants, and federal work study, nearly $750,000 in federal assistance supported Sweet Briar students last year. Just to give you a frame of reference, for Sweet Briar to replace that amount with institutional funds would require an additional $15,000,000 in endowed scholarship funds.
And then there are the federal loan programs. Various loan programs helped Sweet Briar students pay nearly $5,640,000 in tuition and fees. If Sweet Briar replaced those loans with institutional funds, it would require an additional $112,000,000 in endowment.
Of course, the question of how we, as a society, wish to invest in higher education is pressing and contentious at this moment. It’s well established that tuition costs must be controlled and that access must be maintained for students from all economic circumstances. There is active debate about the relative roles of institutional cost reduction, federal and state programs, philanthropy, and student loans in keeping American higher education affordable while retaining its excellence.
It is important, however, for those of all political persuasions to recognize that, today, ambitious, talented, and dedicated students in all kinds of institutions across the nation depend on federal programs to help them realize their educational dreams. For institutions like Sweet Briar, federal and state aid allow us to advance our mission by educating women whose families could not otherwise afford to give them a selective private education. Right now, the more than $6,675,000 that supported Sweet Briar women last year is paying off in changed lives and a stronger community for all.