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W h y T h e N e w Yo r k T i m e s S a y s S u s q u e h a n n a U n i v e r s i t y Is One of the U.S.’s Most Economically Diverse Universities— And Why That Could Be Difficult to Sustain L. Jay s u s q u e h a n n a


U n i v e r s i t y

P r e s i d e n t


E c o n o m i c a l ly



I n S e p t e m b e r , S u s q u e h a n n a w a s r e c o g n i z e d b y T h e N e w Yo r k T i m e s as one of the 10 most economically diverse college campuses in the nation. Here’s the company we keep in the list:


Va s s a r C o l l e g e

Harvard University

Grinnell College

Pomona College

U n i v e r s i t y o f N o r t h C a r o l i n a at Chapel Hill

S t . M a r y ’s C o l l e g e

Smith College

S u s q u e h a n n a U n i v e r s i t y

Amherst College

Columbia University


have a tradition of sharing a meal with every Susquehanna student before he or she graduates. During these gatherings, I ask students what drew them to Susquehanna; what they like best about the university; and what they would change if they were the president. We also talk about their plans for the future. These encounters never cease to be a source of pride and inspiration to me. I walk away with an affirmation of the nobility of the university’s mission and of my own vocation. A teacher at heart, I love seeing students transformed from unsure first-years to confident graduates. I’ve witnessed that evolution in our students, many of whom would never have been here were it not for the generosity of others. I am immensely proud that any highachieving student, regardless of his or her financial circumstances, can be admitted to Susquehanna and have an opportunity to experience this dramatic personal growth. Providing access to qualified students, regardless of socio-economic background, has been part of our DNA from the beginning. The founding vision for Susquehanna was to create

a place where young men from modest means could answer the call to become Lutheran pastors—a vision broadened quickly by the Selinsgrove town fathers to preparing men and women for many vocations. Given this longtime commitment to access and opportunity for all students, my colleagues and I were delighted last September when Susquehanna was included among the top 10 in a New York Times list of 100 economically diverse campuses culled from the complete universe of all colleges and universities in the country on the basis of those who graduate at least 75 percent of their students. More specifically, the purpose of the Times piece was to measure economic diversity on the campuses of the nation’s most selective schools, and we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves at the top of that very short list. To put things in perspective, let me restate that there are 4,500 U.S. colleges and universities, so to appear anywhere on the list puts us in very elite company. Yet the genetic fiber that is so much a part of our DNA is being tugged and frayed by financial factors so intense that it is in danger of breaking.

Percentage of Susquehanna students who receive need-based aid

Percentage of Susquehanna students whose family incomes are less than $100,000

2 $ 1 . 5 2 million per-student endowment

$ 5 0 , 0 0 0 per-student endowment

1 7 % Pell Grant awards

2 5 % Pell Grant awards

Flat family incomes, worries about student debt, and questions around the value of a college education are concerns that heavily weigh on students and their parents. At the same time, colleges and universities face a heightened demand for student services, rising employee costs and intensifying compliance requirements, all of which come with hefty price tags. In short, the cost of doing business continues to climb at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet. Nowhere is this felt more intensely than by those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder.

P u t t i n g a Fa c e o n t h e S t o ry First-year student Julie Vann is an example of why we made it to the top of the Times list. Julie hails from the Bronx and is the fourth of five children of Cambodian refugees who fled the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. Her father—a maintenance worker who provided the main support for his family—died during her junior year in high school. Her mother, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, struggles with English and earns little money doing odd jobs.



ven though it was a pipe dream, Julie had considered Susquehanna because her older sister, Saveth, a 2004 Susquehanna graduate, had a set of life-changing experiences here. Saveth had come to Susquehanna undecided about a major. She appreciated the time and guidance she received from Jim Brock, then-dean of the business school, who convinced her to pursue business. Her math professors nourished her passion for mathematics, and the semester she spent studying in and traveling throughout Europe while on the Sigmund Weis School of Business’ London Program brought expanded horizons and maturity. All of this laid the foundation for a business administration degree with an emphasis in global management that led Saveth to her current position with Manhattan-based Vita Coco—a young, rapidly growing firm that is the leading producer of coconut water in the United States. As Susquehanna opened doors for Saveth, back home her little sister, Julie, took notice— and remembered. But after their father died, Julie thought it would be impossible for her to attend Susquehanna—or, for that matter, any private school. She points to Erin Wolfe, our director of financial aid, for meticulously explaining financial aid options and allowing her to see that attending Susquehanna was, in fact, possible. Yes, the access we provide to students like Julie and Saveth Vann is part of who we are as an institution.

J u l i e Va n n ’ 1 8

N at i o n ’ s h i g h e s t p e r c e n ta g e o f P e ll G r a n t r e c i p i e n t s The Times’ analysis focused on 100 institutions that had four-year graduation rates of at least 75 percent and resulted in the creation of a College Access Index (CAI) based on two factors: • the

percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, reserved for students from families with high levels of demonstrated need, and


net price that low- to middle-income students pay.

Between 2012 and 2014, 25 percent of our students were Pell-eligible: the highest rate among those 100 schools. Our No. 9 College Access Index ranking is all the more impressive considering that the other top-10 schools have much larger endowments. For example, No. 6 Harvard has $1.52 million in endowment per student, more than 30 times our $50,000 per student. Yet only 17 percent of Harvard’s students receive Pell Grants.

Ec onomic diversity an essential element of Susquehanna’s culture A 2014 New York Times op-ed article by education writer Peg Tyre noted, “A college education continues to be the most reliable ladder that allows poor children to climb to the middle class and beyond.” Yet at the nation’s most selective colleges and universities, affluent students outnumber those who are economically disadvantaged by more than 10 to 1. A New American Foundation report concluded last year that many colleges are using their financial resources to compete for the wealthiest students. Colleges that are less selective or have smaller endowments may be especially guilty of trying to lure wealthier students. This has not been true of Susquehanna. In 2014, 80 percent of our incoming class received need-based aid, meaning we continue to welcome a wonderful mix of students from across the income spectrum. Our students— from all socio-economic levels—are attracted to Susquehanna because of the quality of our academic programs, our facilities, the beauty of our campus, and because they feel comfortable and are supported here. As a university community, we, in turn, have continued to benefit from a rich diversity of students who enhance our intellectual environment and influence our culture in many positive ways. I believe our campus environment creates the conditions for students from modest

means to thrive. They are immersed in a culture committed to helping them succeed and to opening doors to opportunities they may never have experienced otherwise. What lies behind our ability to attract a disproportionate percentage of economically disadvantaged students, and support them and all of our students so well that we consistently exceed U.S. News and World Report’s predicted graduation rates? The answers are inspiring, yet troubling because they call into question our ability to continue our legacy of adequately supporting these students. From a financial standpoint, we provide tens of millions annually (for 2015–16, we will provide $45 million) in institutional aid. Our support does not end with financial aid packages. We are particularly attentive to first-year students receiving significant financial aid because they often struggle with the hidden costs of college, such as textbooks or having a laptop—or even their enrollment deposit. We also provide support for students with demonstrated need to participate in Susquehanna’s unique, award-winning Global Opportunities (GO) program. Part of our innovative central curriculum, GO requires that all students complete and reflect on an immersion experience in a culture different from their own, either in the United States or abroad. We are proud of the fact that, for students who need assistance, grants are available to cover up to 75 percent of the cost of each GO experience. Earlier this year, Madeleine Rhyneer, our vice president for enrollment management and marketing, received an email from a single mother who indicated she could only send $100 of her daughter’s $400 deposit. She promised to pay the remainder in a few months. After Madeleine responded that this would be OK, the mother wrote back saying


Ratio of students at the most selective schools whose family incomes are in the top 25% to students from the bottom 25%


she was having a tearful ‘Mom’ moment: “Our daughter will be the first in our family to go to college and she wants to go to Susquehanna more than life,” the mother said. “Mom moments” are welcome at Susquehanna. We know that this mother and others like her want the very best for their children. We believe that the truest expression of democracy is that a person’s ability to pay should not limit the ability to obtain an exceptional college education.

for counseling and support services on college campuses is at an all-time high. Once students matriculate to Susquehanna, a number of programs are designed to support them. These include

A supportive community looks out for students

are taken by all students during their first semester.

For our admissions staff, the challenge isn’t so much finding academically qualified, low-income students as it is in determining how to engage their interest and make them understand they will be welcomed as valuable members of our community. And once they’re here, our faculty and staff work to ensure their success because we understand the more complicated set of social dynamics that are in play for many of these students. As just one example, more single-parent homes and scattered extended families mean less of a support network at home for many students. This is one reason why the demand

global business or social justice—all the courses build

Peer mentors Older students who help with first-year student orientation are assigned to a small group of these incoming students to mentor after classes begin. ‘Perspectives’ courses Limited to 16 students, these seminar-style courses While each section has a unique theme—such as cohesiveness, and help students develop and practice the intellectual and personal skills necessary to transition to college. C e n t e r fo r A c a d e m i c Achievement The center’s professional and student tutors help students enhance their study skills and master central curriculum coursework, including math, writing, languages and study skills.

Robust cocurricular options also help students find their niche. We have nearly 150 clubs; a strong athletics program; excellent




campus environment

creates the conditions for students from mode st means to thrive. l .

J ay

l e m o n s


performing arts organizations; and active fraternities and sororities, including the campus’ largest Greek organization, the coed Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. With a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, our faculty are also very focused on their students. Without fail, every single time I share a meal with students, they cite the support they receive from faculty, coaches and staff as being critical to their success and persistence.


Beyond programs and policies An egalitarian mindset aimed at creating opportunities that hard-working students can embrace is interwoven into our culture. So many of our distinguished graduates came from families of modest means who placed a high value on a good education. Consider Signe Gates ’71, vice chair of the university’s Board of Trustees. Her father was an asbestos worker with an eighth-grade education; her mother was a secretary. After graduating from Susquehanna, she earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and, until retiring, served as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Barnes Group Inc., a Connecticut aerospace manufacturer. Signe is one of the most insightful people I know. Her professional climb up the corporate ladder is remarkable in many ways. She describes her ascent to leadership in the

Signe Gates ’71

legal community as being borne of an ethos of courage, persistence, and hard work that she developed as an SU undergraduate. “I’ve had a remarkable life,” she shared in a recent conversation. “I’ve worked hard and had some breaks. I’ve been presented with opportunities and embraced them,” an early habit she learned at Susquehanna. Signe was an English major who for a time chaired our trustee committee on property and finance—an assignment well outside her comfort zone that she nonetheless embraced as a learning opportunity because of confidence gained during her student days. It is hard for me to imagine Susquehanna as the place it is today without Signe and the wisdom she has brought. Communications graduate Mike Rick ’94 also typifies the impact of our commitment to economic diversity. Mike is the associate

Percentage of Susquehanna students w h o r e c e i v e P e ll G r a n t s v s .




aimed at creating opportunities that hard-working students can embrace is interwoven into our culture. — l . J a y l e m o n s

The average p e r c e n ta g e o f P e ll G r a n t r e c i p i e n t s at s c h o o l s o n t h e NYT l i s t.



director of communications and public relations for one of the nation’s largest law firms, Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates. Growing up, he faced many challenges. After his father left his family’s Hamburg, Pa., home, the parents of one of his high school friends took him in. He wanted to attend Susquehanna but the family he was living with did not think that was financially realistic. They suggested he consider a public university. However, as Julie Vann discovered nearly a quarter century later, Mike received a lot of help and advice from Helen Nunn, then SU’s director of financial aid. He received Pell Grants; an academic- and need-based scholarship from the Paul and Mildred John Scholarship Program endowment; and, to a lesser extent, loans. Thanks in part to Susquehanna’s small size, beginning in his first year, he was able to: start taking courses in his major and get involved with both the campus radio station and student newspaper, The Crusader. He also served as a Big Brother. The faculty and staff with whom he connected became Mike’s family. “I came up the hard way,” Mike shared. “I have an appreciation for what I have. The people I met at Susquehanna took really good care of me. They provided opportunities and guidance and at the same time, I had a lot of self-motivation. I always felt that they had given me this chance and it was my job to make the most of it.”

M o r e s c h o l a r s h i p s u pp o rt a critical need I worry about the modern-day Signes and Mikes for whom the obstacles—or perceived obstacles—to enrollment are simply too foreboding. There is room here, and these sorts of students continue to thrive on our campus.

We believe t h at t h e t r u e s t expression of democracy is t h at a p e r s o n ’ s a b i l i t y t o pay should not limit the ability t o o b ta i n a n exceptional c o ll e g e e d u c at i o n . L . J ay L e m o n s

Although the percentage of students of modest means we enroll at Susquehanna is very large relative to more affluent schools, we cannot completely meet their 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. For 2015-16, our incoming Pell-eligible students will receive up to $41,775 in institutional aid to close the gap between what they are able to pay and the Pell Grant they receive, plus loans and work-study.

We are profoundly grateful to generations of alumni and other donors who have made investments to ensure that a Susquehanna education and the doors it opens remain possible for all qualified students. But our students need additional support. I worry that without these much-needed funds, our ability to provide life-changing opportunities to worthy students will be threatened. If that happens, not only will the ripples be felt by would-be future generations of students; they will be felt by the broader world, which will be far the lesser for this lost potential. I opened this white paper with reflections on my lunches with students, a tradition I borrowed from a mentor of mine at Texas A&M University. Consider with me one of Susquehanna’s oldest traditions—members of the senior class scaling Mt. Mahanoy, the highest point near campus, as a final, collective act prior to graduation. They are exhilarated by the exertion of the climb and the vistas before them. Those who reach the top of Mt. Mahanoy do so under their own physical power, but their ability to get to the point of making that climb is the result of many who helped to open doors for them. The persons they have become during their four years at Susquehanna reflect the interactions, guidance and support they’ve experienced along the way. The faculty, staff

Mike Rick ’94

and alumni they’ve encountered can rightfully share in the success of reaching the summit. As these students become graduates and make their way into the world, their efforts to achieve, lead and serve strengthen their communities and help to cement Susquehanna’s place as a leader in higher education. More students need to have a chance to climb to the summit. They will be better for it, and Susquehanna will be better for having used our influence and resources to make a difference in their lives and in the larger world. All of us who know about the power of the journey to the summit—all of us who have benefited from the works of all who have made that climb—must find ways to assure that we have the resources needed to provide access and support for future generations of folks like Julie, Saveth, Mike and Signe.


“ T h e p e o pl e I m e t at S u s q u e h a n n a t o o k r e a lly g o o d care of me.”

T h e N e w Yo r k T i m e s

t o p E c o n o m i c a l ly Diverse Colleges 1 . Va s s a r

25. Brandeis

5 1 . M i d d l e b u ry

77. Gettysburg

2 . G r i n n e ll

2 6 . F r a n k l i n a n d

5 2 . B at e s

78. Dickinson

M a r s h a ll

5 3 . S wa rt h m o r e

7 9 . B o s t o n C o ll .

N o rt h c a r o l i n a

2 7 . H a m i lt o n

54. Harvey Mudd

80. Rhodes

( C h a p e l H i ll )

28. Rochester

55. Babson

81. Bentley

2 9 . U n i v e r s i t y o f

56. Chicago

82. Kenyon

5 7 . C o lb y

8 3 . V i ll a n o va

5 8 . C l a r e m o n t

84. Furman

3 . U n i v e r s i t y o f

4. Smith 5. Amherst

P e n n s y lva n i a

6 . H a r va r d

30. Duke

7. Pomona

3 1 . D a rt m o u t h

8 . S t. M a ry ’ s ( I n d . )

32. Ursinus

5 9 . S t. Ol a f

3 3 . C o r n e ll

60. Lehigh

34. Princeton

61. Centre

87. Muhlenberg

3 5 . Va n d e r b i lt

6 2 . C a lt e c h

8 8 . L a fay e t t e

10. Columbia

3 6 . Ill i n o i s W e s l e ya n

63. Trinity (Conn.)

89. Boston U.

11. Rice

3 7 . S t. L aw r e n c e

6 4 . H o ly C r o s s

9 0 . L oy o l a ( M d . )

12. Kalamazoo

3 8 . E m o ry

65. Notre Dame

91. Providence

1 3 . W e s l e ya n

39. Johns Hopkins

6 6 . C o n n . C o ll .

92. Emerson

14. Denison

40. Macalester

67. American

9 3 . S e wa n e e

15. Brown

41. Bowdoin

6 8 . C o lg at e

9 4 . Wa s h i n g t o n

1 6 . W i ll i a m s

4 2 . B ry n M aw r

6 9 . N o rt h w e s t e r n


17. Barnard

4 3 . W o ff o r d

70. Tufts

( S t. L o u i s )

1 8 . S ta n f o r d

4 4 . Ya l e

7 1 . Wa s h i n g t o n

9 5 . Wa k e F o r e s t

1 9 . W h e at o n ( Ill . )

45. Richmond

and Lee

9 6 . S a n ta C l a r a

2 0 . W e ll e s l e y

46. Georgetown

7 2 . W i ll i a m & M a ry

9 7 . B u c k n e ll

2 1 . Occ i d e n ta l

4 7 . D av i d s o n

73. Fordham

9 8 . Fa i r f i e l d

2 2 . D e Pa u w

48. Skidmore

7 4 . S t o n e h i ll

9 9 . El o n

2 3 . M . I . T.

49. Virginia

7 5 . N . Y. U .

100. Whitman

2 4 . H av e r f o r d

50. Carleton

76. Colorado college

9. Susquehanna

McK e n n a

8 5 . Sc r i pp s 8 6 . G e o r g e Wa s h i n g t o n

Economic Diversity at Susquehanna University  
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