Welcome back! I’m glad to see the campus bustling and hear tales of winter-term projects. Be sure to check out the 2014 Winter Term Chronicles on Oberlin OnCampus—and submit your own.
Last month I attended the White House’s College Opportunity Summit along with other college and university presidents, including our former dean, Sean Decatur, now president of Kenyon College. This summit focused on the challenges faced by lower income students in getting into and graduating from college.
We learned that only 9 percent of those born into the lowest quartile of American families from 1979 to 1982 attended and graduated from college. We also learned that significant barriers exist for students in urban public high schools. I recall hearing that an average urban public high school has only one counselor for more than 1,000 students—and that person advises students on issues that include truancy and family problems as well as college counseling. The national average is one counselor for every 470 students.
The President and First Lady spoke as did many other members of the administration, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The speakers, including those from the nonprofit and business sectors, covered the spectrum of the process of getting into college—admissions and aid, pipeline programs, and academic support and development.
There was broad agreement on several key points. Higher education is an indispensable pillar of our democracy, our economy, and our way of life. Our country must affirm the value of higher education as an important national priority, and make sure that access to a quality college education is a viable option for every student seeking a degree.
I was honored to attended the summit because Oberlin is—has always been—strongly committed to access and support for students across the income spectrum. We recently partnered with Raise Labs, a new program that provides micro-scholarships for students at urban public schools. And we have extraordinary ongoing commitments to programs that include the Posse Foundation; the Robinson Scholars, our scholarship program for Oberlin High School students; Questbridge; and the Ninde Scholars Program, which provides academic enrichment and college-preparation services to young people in Oberlin.
Our commitment to financial aid—the overwhelming majority of our students receive need-based financial aid—rivals that of any peer institution. The faculty, staff, and students who work in our K-12 schools and elsewhere strengthen potential applicants to this and other colleges and universities. Every day I meet alumni who are dedicating their lives to K-12 education and to prospective college students who face barriers. Finally, I note the dedication of our faculty who work, along with our academic support, residential life, and other staff, to ensure that our students succeed once they are admitted to great schools like ours.
The summit inspired me and I know that all of us share the goal that Oberlin continue to open the doors for students from lower income families. Our comprehensive campaign, Oberlin Illuminate, highlights scholarships and financial aid as the number one priority. Even small amounts can make a huge difference in the lives of students. Thanks to the many of you who contribute, whether through the senior gift, or the faculty and staff campaign, or the Annual Fund, to help make this vision of access and opportunity a reality here at Oberlin.
So much is going on, and it’s only the first week of the semester. Do join me, Professor David Walker, and Lena Dunham ’08 for our first convocation of the semester on Saturday, February 8, at 8 p.m. in Finney Chapel. And don’t miss the first main stage production of the theater department’s spring semester line up—Follow Me To Nellie’s, directed by Professor Justin Emeka—or the Apollo’s screenings of The Monuments Men, the story of the group that rescued artistic treasures from the Nazis and which included Oberlin graduate and former Allen Memorial Art Museum director Charles Parkhurst.