#GivingTuesday: With You, More is Possible

Now that we have expressed thanks, and, in many cases, shopped until we dropped, it’s time again to focus on Giving!  This is Wesleyan’s fourth year participating in #GivingTuesday. Thousands of Wesleyan alumni, parents, students and friends have chosen to make their donations on Giving Tuesday – and together, we have unlocked millions of dollars in matching funds for financial aid.

This year’s challenge – When 3,500 members of the Wesleyan community make gifts by Giving Tuesday, November 28, trustee Marc Casper ’90 will donate $300K to financial aid to support our students.

Giving is easy! Just visit the homepage for #GivingTuesday: www.wesleyan.edu/givingtuesday

Thanks in advance for making an impact by adding resources to financial aid!

 

How to Choose a (Our) University

The happy emails and web links have gone out (replacing those thick envelopes of yesteryear), and all those fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: picking the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? As I do each spring, I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on choosing a college, with a few revisions.

Of course, for many the decision will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to raise tuition only in sync with inflation in the future. We also offer a three year program that allows families to save about 20% of their total expenses, while still earning the same number of credits.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, have become increasingly popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. But if one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Pomona?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, to get a feel for the chemistry of the place — to gauge whether they will be happy there. That’s why hundreds of visitors come to Wesleyan each week and why there will be the great surge for WesFest. They go to classes and athletic contests, musical performances and parties. And they ask themselves: Would I be happy at Wesleyan?

I hope our visitors get a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk:

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We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into. But even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody. We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping the fields in which they work. The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we are seeing right now on campus.  We know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 30 years. I bet the magic will enchant many of our visitors, too.

If Foss Hill Could Talk…

This week we are holding a special event to raise money to support students. Foss Hill Day reminds alumni, current students, faculty and staff of a place that is central to all of us. For some, Foss is where they heard one of the greatest concerts of their lives, for others, it’s the place where they walked in solitary circles trying to figure out what to do with their lives, while for several it’s the place where they fell in love, proposed marriage, made a leap.

When I was sick last week, I kept asking Kari, “is there still snow on Foss?” It’s my touchstone for the campus climate — and I don’t just mean the weather.

Foss at Spring Break
Foss at Spring Break
From my office window March 30
From my office window March 30

On Thursday, April 2, we will ask for gifts of whatever size in honor of our common ground, Foss Hill. Tom Kelly ’73  (who heard the Dead on the hill and hears them still) has generously offered a challenge gift. The grand total goes to support students through the Wesleyan Fund!

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Go to the hill! Make a gift!! THIS IS WHY.

Taking Wesleyan to the Bay Area

On March 9, I attended a wonderful Wesleyan event in San Francisco. More than 100 alumni and parents came out to hear about liberal education today, and to discuss the importance of financial aid support. I was joined by Jonathan Schwartz ’87 (shown below, far right), a scholarship kid who went on to do great things in the technology industry and who now runs CareZone, a company he co-founded to help families organize and attend to their health care data.

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

There were folks at the reception from across the generations, and we had a good conversation about reducing student debt and expanding the curriculum.

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

San Francisco: How to Destroy Higher Education

In the morning I visited our online partner Coursera to hear about some of their new specializations. I think Wesleyan can expand the quality and quantity of our MOOCs over the next several months.

I had spent the afternoon meeting with alumni and with colleagues at Stanford. I very much enjoyed the d-school’s open spaces and giddily innovative atmosphere. Some kinship with Wes at our best?

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The next day, I headed to Menlo Park for a conversation with writer Michael Chabon P ’17 and Bozoma Saint John ’99, head of consumer marketing at iTunes and Beats Music.

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Menlo Park: How to Destroy Higher Education

Support Financial Aid on Giving Tuesday

Holidays focus our attention. We may be grateful during various times of the year, but on Thanksgiving many of us really focus on what we are thankful for. At our house, I ask each person at dinner to say a few words about what inspires her or his gratitude. Sure, I get my share of eye rolling — in some moods, taking a moment to say out loud what we appreciate and are grateful for feels pretty odd. But once we get in the rhythm, I think, it feels pretty good.

For a long time here in America we have liked to attach commercial transactions to our holidays. Why not have a sale, or some other special event to get folks out and shopping. Although I righteously stayed away from stores on Friday (phobia more than virtue, actually), I have to admit that I was online Monday, looking for some of those cyber deals. But today presents an opportunity for a different kind of transaction.

Today, December 2, is Giving Tuesday. The brainchild of Henry Timms, now director of the 92nd St Y, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become recognized as a special day to act philanthropically. People all over the world are going to make donations to their favorite causes. Why not join in this campaign to take a pause from the momentum of the commercial to give a gift to a not-for-profit organization?

Here at Wesleyan, we have a special opportunity on Giving Tuesday. When the Wesleyan community reaches its goal of 1,000 gifts on Giving Tuesday, Catherine Klema P’13 and trustee David Resnick ’81, P’13 will establish a scholarship for an incoming frosh in the class of 2019. All the gifts given to financial aid on December 2 will add to this scholarship and help fund four years of Wes for this new student.

We know that lots of people aren’t able to make big gifts, but we are hopeful that many, many people will support our students with donations that suit their budgets. Please join the campaign to increase financial aid.

GIVE NOW

 

Thank you in advance for your support of Wesleyan’s students on Giving Tuesday – Because a Wesleyan Education is Our Cause.

You know why.

This is Why.

 

Choosing the Right School, Choosing Wesleyan

This is the season when lots of families are visiting college campuses across the country — looking for the one that feels like the perfect match. Juniors start off slowly, and often with some hesitation. After all, they have plenty of time to play the field, checking out big campuses at which one can get happily lost in the crowd and small ones that promise supportive community. Seniors by now are often in the frantic stage (my daughter Sophie is a senior), trying to determine if they are really sure enough about a school to apply early decision. For parents and students alike, this can feel like a lot of pressure.

I love meeting with prospective students as I walk around campus. Their questions reveal something of their hopes for the future, and I am always interested in learning what they are looking for in a campus. I usually stress that Wesleyan isn’t for everybody, and that this is a place that values individuality, intellectual experimentation and cultural curiosity. Students who are interested in going beyond their comfort zone to meet new people, discover new fields of inquiry and learn from unexpected sources… these are the young people most likely to feel that sense of “match” with Wesleyan.

While Wesleyan has gotten significantly more selective over the last 8 years, the university has also made strong efforts to improve access. We’ve been actively seeking applicants from parts of the country that had not previously sent the university many students, and it includes making sure we meet full need without requiring heavy borrowing. Indeed, last year while significantly increasing our spending on financial aid, we expanded our “no loans” policy to include any student whose household income was under 60,000. Meeting full need with little required loans — those remain key elements of our approach to financial aid.

As students visit Wesleyan, I hope they get a strong sense of how we combine academic rigor with intellectual flexibility. I also hope they get a feel for the extraordinary student culture here: its compassionate solidarity, social engagement, and its supportive, inspiring ambiance.

Choosing the right college can feel overwhelming; its true importance lies in finding a place that will launch one into meaningful work, deep friendships and lifelong learning. When I wrote the following (the conclusion to my recent book Beyond the University), I was thinking of Wesleyan and the transformative education students can find here:

Through doubt, imagination, and hard work, students come to understand that they really can reshape themselves and their societies. Liberal education matters because by challenging the forces of conformity it promises to be relevant to our professional, personal and political lives. That relevance isn’t just about landing one’s first job; it emerges over the course of one’s working life. The free inquiry and experimentation of a reflexive, pragmatic education help us to think for ourselves, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, and become better acquainted with our own desires, our own hopes. Liberal education matters far beyond the university because it increases our capacity to understand the world, contribute to it, and reshape ourselves. When it works, it never ends.

 

Wesleyan out West

I’m getting ready to return to Wesleyan after a few days in Los Angeles followed by a brief visit to San Francisco. The occasion was the Shasha Seminar on the road, organized by Jeanine Basinger. The topics for the day were Women in Film, TV Writing, and the Business of Film. Each panel was thoughtful, funny and very engaging. We had almost 200 alumni, students and friends at William Morris-Endeavor, and there was plenty of time for making new connections and pursuing good conversation among old friends. Scott Higgins and Steve Collins joined us for the discussions, and I spoke about the Mellon Foundation encouraging us to build an endowment for the College of Film and Moving Image with a $2 million challenge grant. If we raise $4 million, the foundation will make a $2 million contribution to the endowment of the CFMI. It’s a great time to support film at Wesleyan, and many alumni and parents have already made significant donations.

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Marc Shmuger ’80, Jan Eliasberg ’74, Brad Fuller ’87, Jane Goldenring ’77, Matthew Greenfield ’90, and Paul Weitz ’88
2E3A3684
With me are David Stone ’04, host; Scott Higgins, associate professor of film studies at Wesleyan; Professor Jeanine Basinger; and Steve Collins ’96, assistant professor of film studies at Wesleyan

While on the West Coast I made a quick trip to San Francisco to meet with Wesleyan supporters of financial aid. I am so grateful for their efforts to provide scholarships for Wes students. Before heading to the airport, I spent an hour talking about liberal education at KQED, the Bay Area’s NPR station. On Michael Krasny’s Forum show, we talked about Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters and took questions from callers. A couple of Wes alumni called in, and there was strong support for broad, contextual education. There was also recognition that we must make it more affordable and reduce student indebtedness. You can listen here.

How to Choose a (Our) University

The happy emails and web links have gone out (replacing those thick envelopes), and all those fortunate enough to have choices about what college to attend will make a big decision: picking the college that is just right for them. They are trying to envision where they will be most likely to thrive. Where will I learn the most, be happiest, and form friendships that will last a lifetime? How to choose? As I do each spring, I thought it might be useful to re-post my thoughts on choosing a college, with a few revisions.

Of course, for many the decision will be made on an economic basis. Which school has given the most generous financial aid package? Wesleyan is one of a small number of schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students according to a formula developed over several years. There are some schools with larger endowments that can afford to be even more generous than Wes, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of others that are unable even to consider meeting financial need over four years of study. Our school is expensive because it costs a lot to maintain the quality of our programs. But Wesleyan has made a commitment to keep loan levels low and to raise tuition only in sync with inflation in the future. We also offer a three year program that allows families to save about 20% of their total expenses, while still earning the same number of credits.

After answering the question of which schools one can afford, how else does one decide where best to spend one’s college years? Of course, size matters.  Some students are looking for a large university in an urban setting where the city itself plays an important role in one’s education. New York and Boston, for example, have become increasingly popular college destinations, but not, I suspect, for the classroom experience. But if one seeks small classes and strong, personal relationships with faculty, then liberal arts schools, which pride themselves on providing rich cultural and social experiences on a residential campus, are especially compelling. You can be on a campus with a human scale and still have plenty of things to do. Wesleyan is somewhat larger than most liberal arts colleges but much smaller than the urban or land grant universities. We feel that this gives our students the opportunity to choose a broad curriculum and a variety of cultural activities on campus, while still being small enough to encourage regular, sustained relationships among faculty and students.

All the selective small liberal arts schools boast of having a faculty of scholar-teachers, of a commitment to research and interdisciplinarity, and of encouraging community and service. So what sets us apart from one another after taking into account size, location, and financial aid packages? What are students trying to see when they visit Amherst and Wesleyan, or Tufts and Middlebury?

Knowing that these schools all provide a high-quality, broad and flexible curriculum with strong teaching, and that the students all have displayed great academic capacity, prospective students are trying to discern the personalities of each school. They are trying to imagine themselves on the campus, among the people they see, to get a feel for the chemistry of the place — to gauge whether they will be happy there. That’s why hundreds of visitors come to Wesleyan each week and why there will be the great surge for WesFest. They go to classes and athletic contests, musical performances and parties. And they ask themselves: Would I be happy at Wesleyan?

I hope our visitors have gotten a sense of the personality of the school that I so admire and enjoy. I hope they feel the exuberance and ambition of our students, the intelligence and care of our faculty, the playful yet demanding qualities of our community. I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating a diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated, and to public service that is part of one’s education and approach to life.

Whatever college or university students choose, I hope they get three things out their education: discovering what they love to do; getting better at it; learning to share it with others. I explain a little bit more about that in this talk:

YouTube Preview Image

We all know that Wesleyan is hard to get into. But even in the group of highly selective schools, Wes is not for everybody.We aspire to be a community committed to boldness as well as to rigor, to idealism as well as to effectiveness. Whether in the sciences, arts, humanities or social sciences, our faculty and students are dedicated to explorations that invite originality as well as collaboration. The scholar-teacher model is at the heart of our curriculum. Our faculty are committed to teaching and to shaping the fields in which they work. The commitment of our faculty says a lot about who we are, as does the camaraderie around the completion of senior projects that we are seeing right now on campus.  We know how to work hard, but we also know how to enjoy the work we choose to do. That’s been magically appealing to me for more than 30 years. I bet the magic will enchant many of our visitors, too.

Expanding Access and Creating Opportunity

Last week gave me plenty to think about in regard to creating more opportunities for students to pursue a liberal education at the college level. On Tuesday night, I met with the extraordinary group of veterans who will be starting out at Wesleyan in the class of 2018. While they come from a wide variety of backgrounds, their experience in the military has had a powerful impact on all of them as they prepare for the next stage in their education.

The next day I headed to Washington for a gathering of college and university presidents concerned with creating greater access to higher education for students from low-income families. But access isn’t enough. We also discussed how to improve preparation for college work in the K-12 sector, and also how to ensure that those students we do admit will be successful as undergraduates. Michelle Obama told us that education as opportunity was the story of her life, and she movingly described her own path from working class Chicago to Princeton. She also made the important point, echoed by many others, that low-income students had many assets when compared to those who grew up with privilege. These students had already learned from their struggles; they already had overcome obstacles in ways that prepare them for leadership. We needn’t feel sorry for these students, the First Lady emphasized, we just need to understand how to leverage the strengths they were already bringing to the table.

President Obama made the point that economic recovery without social mobility would undermine our society, and that education was a key to social mobility. Only 9% of students from the bottom economic quintile attend college, but 90% of this group that completes college won’t remain at the bottom of the economic ladder. We can do a lot better than 9% in the United States, and we here at Wesleyan will find ways to do our part. Our alumni remind us again and again: education creates opportunity — not just for a higher salary, but for a more meaningful life.

At Wesleyan we will continue to make financial aid our highest fundraising priority. Our THIS IS WHY campaign has raised more than 320 million dollars, and the majority of those funds will go to the endowment, mostly to support scholarships. I know that some question how I can call for greater access to college when I have also said that Wesleyan cannot be fully “need blind” at this time. Here’s the answer: we remain about 90% need blind, and we will strive to do more. But we must have a sustainable financial aid program, one that doesn’t economically undermine the very educational program to which we are creating access. We must not use our financial aid resources “blindly;” we must use them intentionally to create access where it will matter the most.

Of course, I would prefer not to have to worry about how to pay for the Wes educational experience we value so much. But our endowment, substantial as it is, does not grant us that luxury. So we build the endowment now, with financial aid as our highest priority. Through fundraising and smart endowment management, we will be able to afford to be need-blind in the future without resorting to high loans or tuition increases just to preserve the label. We will no longer raise tuition aggressively, nor will we increase loan requirements. We will gratefully raise more money for scholarships so that a decade from now we will be in a position to promote access without undue worry about how much that will cost.

But we don’t have to wait a decade to do more now. We can use our financial aid dollars to meet the full financial need of every student at the university. In addition, hundreds of Wesleyan students and dozens of faculty and staff are already engaged in helping students in the K-12 system enhance their learning. Over the next several weeks I will be meeting with leaders of many groups involved in this effort to see how we might join forces under the banner of college readiness. We can work together to give students in Middletown and surrounding communities more opportunities to be prepared for and have success in higher education. We can do what Wesleyan folks have always done: advance our own learning by doing good in the world.

Ours is not a perfect situation, but it is one that we can build on to expand access and create opportunity.

Welcoming Veterans as Part of Class of 2018

On Tuesday evening I attended the ceremony honoring the cohort of veterans who have been selected to begin their education at Wesleyan in the fall. With this group, we join with the Posse Foundation and Vassar College in expanding educational opportunities for the men and women who have served in the armed forces since 9/11. We plan on accepting groups of ten veterans through this process each year.

The Posse Foundation’s philosophy is to provide educational opportunities to students from under-represented groups who support and inspire one another in strong cohorts. The 10 Early Decision students have served in Iraq, Afghanistan and here in the United States. They have this in common: a strong desire to support one another as they pursue a broad, engaged liberal education at Wesleyan. Having already gone through a rigorous selection process, they seemed very much ready to join our campus community. I know they will make important contributions to it as they interact with students, faculty and staff.

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This year we have also decided to increase the number of Questbridge scholars in the class of 2018. Questbridge Scholars add significantly to our diversity as they enliven our classrooms, stages and playing fields. At Wesleyan we don’t have unlimited resources for scholarships, but thanks to generous donors at all levels, we can use our scholarships to make a profound difference in the lives of individual students and in the character of our community. I’m very grateful for the contributions we’ve received that make these and other financial aid initiatives possible at Wesleyan.

This week I will be attending meetings on college access at the White House. I hope to learn about more ways that we can leverage our resources to create new opportunities for low and middle income families.  While we raise money for financial aid endowment, we are already finding ways to offer enhanced scholarships within a sustainable economic model. This will mean keeping our tuition increases in line with inflation, and maintaining financial aid as a fundraising priority. The THIS IS WHY campaign has already raised more than $300 million, the majority of those funds going to the endowment. This will enable the university to become less dependent on tuition, so that we can truly disregard the financial capacity of applicants and meet full demonstrated need without requiring excessive loans.

At the end of the festivities with Posse, our new members of the class of ’18 joined me in a boisterous GO WES!! I can hardly wait to welcome them to campus.

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