Although the rising cost of higher education has been a national issue for several decades, the collapse of the economy last fall has given it heightened visibility and made it an urgent concern for many prospective students. Tightening student loan options, employment uncertainty and continuing market volatility have caused many families to question seriously their ability to pay for a college education—particularly at prestigious residential liberal-arts colleges.
Dickinson has responded quickly and creatively to the current crisis. Maintaining access for all qualified students has been—and remains—a core element of our mission. Our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, intentionally established our college on what was then the nation’s Western frontier to broaden access to higher education among the citizens of the new democracy. In an effort to fulfill this responsibility under these singular 21st-century circumstances, we have taken several significant and innovative steps.
First, even though Dickinson has experienced a significant drop in endowment and other revenue since last fall, we made the decision early on to increase need-based financial aid by 12 percent above that expended last year. This means that, this academic year, we anticipate allocating $31.5 million to give worthy and qualified students the opportunity to receive a Dickinson education.
Our second step occurred earlier this spring, when we launched an extremely creative partnership with five community colleges that are within 100 miles of Carlisle. Recognizing that community colleges are increasingly the entry point to higher education for many students, we established the Community College Partnership Program to provide a structured pathway for students to transfer to Dickinson after their first two years.
The program ensures that the selected first-year students—all of whom will be enrolled in community-college honors programs—will receive the support, coaching and coursework necessary to eventually transfer to and be successful at Dickinson. The college also will offer financial incentives—a community-college scholarship and financial aid—to enable students to complete their education here.
Giving returning military veterans easier access to a liberal-arts education by participating in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program is a third step in our new affordability outreach. Eligible veterans will receive course grants and scholarships that, when coupled with educational grants from the VA and other sources, will allow them to attend Dickinson tuition free.
Dr. Rush equated patriotism not only with military duty but with community and public service—defined most broadly. “Patriots … come forward!” he wrote. “Your country demands your success … in her governments, in her finances, in her trade, in her manufactures, in her morals and in her manners.”
To acknowledge the enormous role public service plays in our society and to encourage prospective students to embrace this form of patriotism, we have established a fourth new college access and affordability option, the Dickinson College Public Service Fellowship.
This program accommodates those students who may wish to take a “gap” year—or years—after high school before matriculating. Participants will earn a $10,000 tuition credit per year for up to four years by engaging in meaningful public service devoted to improving the human condition or the natural environment. Upon matriculation, participants will be eligible for additional financial assistance and receive priority consideration for positions such as residential and community advisors.
These new programs acknowledge the shifting higher-education landscape within which we now must operate. They demonstrate that we remain adamantly committed to providing a first-rate education and firmly convinced that our nation and our global society desperately require the talents and leadership of those who have received a useful and distinctive Dickinson liberal-arts education. Our ongoing challenge will be to continue to find innovative ways to maintain affordability and offer access to students who demonstrate the promise of becoming true Dickinsonians.