From the President’s Desk
A quarterly letter to our readers from IWU President Eric Jensen
(From IWU Magazine, FALL 2016)
Thanks for reading this letter before turning to our coverage of Homecoming! It was
good to see those who came, and I hope you’re pleased if our cameras caught you in
action. If you missed it, please enjoy the article and photos, and we hope to see
you next year. We had a couple of events rained out, including the Greek chariot races,
but the football game and tailgating were under sunny skies on Saturday. The Alumni
Awards dinner was held indoors on Friday night and was well attended.
At Homecoming, from Golden Titans on down, and at some of the recent Alumni Connections
that I’ve attended, I was struck by the number of times that I heard (usually together
and in sequence) two things. First, alums said that they would neither have gotten
into Illinois Wesleyan nor graduated with today’s standards. With all due respect,
I attributed that in every instance to “aw, shucks” Midwestern modesty, and didn’t
believe it for a second! In fact, it’s the talent and success of our graduates that
have enabled us continually to recruit new generations of students with such excellent
academic standards. Second, I typically heard from alums a heartfelt account of the
way that, somehow, Illinois Wesleyan found a way to help each of them attend in spite
of challenging financial circumstances. It reinforced what a privilege it is for me
to be associated with this wonderful university.
It also caused me to wonder what future alumni will say to my successors. Will they
still be modest and self-effacing? I think so. But will they thank us for making possible
what seemed to be financially impossible? Frankly, I’m less sure. Pardon me for slipping
into my old tweed jacket as I play economics professor, but the middle class has not
recovered since the Great Recession of 2008. In fact, families with below-median income
have actually lost purchasing power. I heard about how hard it was for those alumni
with whom I’ve been speaking to imagine a financial path through IWU in past decades.
It’s at least as hard for substantial numbers of potential students and their families
to do so today.
Sometimes lost in the bad press about disasters in public and for-profit education
(and, to be honest, about high published tuition costs at schools like ours) is that
we’ve earnestly done our part to help these students and their families. The fact
is that real net out-of-pocket tuition paid has gone down, here and at private nonprofit
schools as a group, over the past decade. As a result, Illinois Wesleyan has controlled
our students’ debt, keeping it below the national average. We accomplished this by
increasing our grants and scholarships, supported through real reductions in costs.
We change lives. I know, because I’ve heard it firsthand from so many of you. While
this defining task abides, cost reductions unfortunately are finite, and the economy
remains difficult. Continuing to allow deserving students the transformative Illinois
Wesleyan adventure will depend upon the support of those who know its power. Over
the coming year, I hope that you’ll join in conversations about how to continue to
pass forward what we’ve done so well, for so many families, over our history.