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A Message from the President

Our Focus on Access

September 13, 2023

Dear Willamette Community,

I’ve written before about college rankings and their limitations. Most college ranking systems exist primarily in the hopes that the buzz they create each year can help sell advertisements on the websites where they appear. At their worst, they drive higher education towards homogeneous measures of “value” that are ill-suited to helping students find the right match for their idiosyncratic interests and needs.

Today, though, I would like to call attention to The New York Times' recently-released College-Access Index that I think genuinely has a new and important story to tell about Willamette: of the top 286 selective colleges and universities in the United States, ranked in order of socioeconomic diversity, Willamette is ranked 25th in the country overall, fourth in the west coast, and number one in the Pacific Northwest.

“Socioeconomic diversity” is a bland phrase that undersells the significance of this achievement. What this list actually measures is how successful each college or university is in serving students and families with relatively high financial need. The most important driver of socioeconomic mobility in America is access to higher education, and a vital step toward leadership in many sectors of society is to first attend college.

For a university like Willamette, which has for almost two centuries been the school that educated a disproportionate number of leaders for our region and the world, providing access for talented and committed students regardless of family wealth must be a core value. Our budget priorities and this ranking prove that it is.

Willamette University is ranked ahead of our private university peers and regional flagships like the University of Oregon and the University of Washington. This is not surprising. Willamette spends a larger fraction of our budget on financial aid than most universities, and our students benefit from generations of generous donors who have given to support endowed and current-use scholarships. The excellence of our academic programs is always our first consideration, but also important is maintaining a constant focus on controlling costs because we know that as a not-for-profit university, every dollar we can save is a dollar our students don’t need to pay.

Higher education still struggles to provide equitable access, and even with our number one regional ranking, Willamette is far from where we’d like to one day be. But we should all take pride in the leadership we have shown and in this path we have chosen. There are many choices any university can make about how to spend its resources, but few choices have the impact of financial aid: opening access to this outstanding university to those who could not otherwise afford to attend; enriching our classrooms and other spaces with their talents; and ultimately supporting the contributions they will make in the world.

Non nobis solum,

Willamette University

Office of the President

Salem Campus

Waller Hall, 5th Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.