Leadership in defining access and affordability noted

by Michael Beseda,

Willamette’s initiatives were quoted in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education story.

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education story on the ways colleges — especially those with the most resources — struggle to set appropriate goals in providing access to higher education for all students highlighted the work of Trustee Sandy Rowe and her Committee on Access and Affordability:

“And then there’s Willamette University, in Oregon, whose endowment per undergraduate of $115,098 puts it well below our rich colleges group. In 2015, the university’s board set a group of goals around affordability and access. One of them was for Willamette to ‘match or lead’ two peer groups, one regional and one aspirational, in the share of U.S. students who receive Pell Grants and the share who are first generation. Other goals relate to enrolling students of color, having comparable graduation rates for different groups of students, and keeping student debt low.

“At the time the goals were set, Willamette already was ahead of both peer groups on Pell, at 21 percent of all undergraduates. But the idea is to meet all the goals at once, and taken together they are ‘quite ambitious,’ says Sandy Rowe, the trustee who chairs the subcommittee that developed them. It’s not enough for Willamette to bring in more low-income students, she says; it also must get them to graduation, with a reasonable debt load.

“As her committee worked to pin down the meanings of ‘access’ and ‘affordability,’ it learned that higher ed often uses such terms in a vague and haphazard way, Ms. Rowe says. That meant Willamette had to come up with its own definitions. ‘We have not accepted a mush, national, unclear definition of access and affordability,’ she says.”

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