I’m writing today from a very quiet campus. We have students here doing summer projects,
and I happened to meet a prospective student-athlete on tour with her family today.
But otherwise it’s a time of year when faculty research (often in collaboration with
students) progresses, and administrators get ready for the coming year. I travel a
fair amount during the summer, meeting alumni singly and at Connections, attending
conferences at which I can compare notes with presidents from schools like Illinois
Wesleyan, and so forth.
Some of the things most impactful to this campus have happened recently in Springfield
and may happen soon in Washington. The exciting news from Springfield in early July
was that the state legislature passed a budget after the state had gone two years
without one. About one-fourth of our students rely on Monetary Assistance Program
(MAP) grants from the State of Illinois. These need-based awards had been in doubt.
We made the decision last year to protect our students from the politics of the process
to the extent that we were able to do so, and continued that policy this year. The
passage of a budget that included full MAP funding was met with great rejoicing in
Holmes Hall. We await with some trepidation the Federal budget proposal, which may
include cuts in Pell and work-study grants, and other need-based aid on which many
of our students rely.
MAP, Pell, and work-study are relatively small grants, but the reaction of current
and potential students and their families to the possible loss of these funds has
helped to bring home the dilemma faced by many families. The average lifetime earnings
premium accruing from a college education is roughly three quarters of a million dollars.
While it is difficult to calculate a comparable figure for an individual school, we
are among the very best institutions in the country in placing students on psychically
and financially rewarding career paths, and I’m confident in asserting that Titans
earn even more. The data show that we are among the very best in the country at economically
transporting students from low incomes to high, and we have a long history of attendance
by first- and second-generation college students. An impressive 96% of 2016 graduates
were employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.
Unfortunately, barriers to entry and completion that may at first blush seem small,
especially in comparison to the large and fairly certain returns that we offer, can
be formidable. These obstacles grow as income falls. Many students or families with
limited access to credit, for example, saw the potential loss of a $4,968 MAP grant
as catastrophic, and I have no doubt that our flexibility in providing contingent
grants and loans allowed many of these students to remain at IWU. But there is another
important threshold, which is the initial decision to attend a particular college
or university. Increasingly, we see students who, often for want of a relatively small
number of dollars, decide that they cannot afford to attend Illinois Wesleyan.
Middle- and lower-income families have never really recovered from the Great Recession,
and this is especially true in Illinois. As a result, our potential students increasingly
face financial barriers that, while objectively small in comparison to the financial
reward accompanying an Illinois Wesleyan degree, nevertheless loom large as those
students make comparisons between schools. We have aggressively controlled costs,
but the special nature of the experience we provide is by its nature more expensive
than the larger-scale, less-personal undertakings at many institutions. Our transformative
mission has always proudly included children from middle- and lower-income backgrounds.
Its continuation increasingly will depend on the support of the larger Illinois Wesleyan
community, and especially the support of Titans. Thank you for all that you have done
already, and thank you for your generosity in your continuing commitments.