Why It Matters

A vision for Skidmore's future

President Philip A. Glotzbach

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How does Skidmore keep
the liberal arts relevant?

WE MUST PREPARE OUR STUDENTS NOT ONLY FOR TODAY'S PROFESSIONAL WORLD BUT ALSO FOR TOMORROW'S, WHICH WILL DEMAND EVEN HIGHER LEVELS OF INGENUITY AND INNOVATION. The problems they will confront are complex, multidimensional. They won't fit into neat categories, and they will be resolved only by forging creative connections across different areas of knowledge.

Making our world a better place requires both richness of imagination and clarity of thought. Our graduates will have to view complex and dynamic situations from multiple perspectives, sort through enormous amounts of information, and collaborate to create solutions no one has yet envisioned.

Empowering our graduates to infuse creativity into everything they do and then to implement their ideas is the most crucial mission we serve. It's the core of our belief that creative thought matters: learning how to bring creativity to life. Ideas are wonderful; ideas are launching points. But unrealized ideas are just unfulfilled dreams. "Creative Thought Matters" means that thought leads to action.

That's why we are expanding internship opportunities that allow students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world issues. It's why we are supporting more faculty-student research projects, from developing drug therapies for type-2 diabetes to creating new equipment and protocols that protect firefighters from sudden cardiac arrest. It's why we send our students to more than one hundred programs in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East … all over the world.

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WHY DOES IT COST SO MUCH
TO EDUCATE A SKIDMORE STUDENT?

PROVIDING THE HIGHEST-QUALITY LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION IS A VERY EXPENSIVE PROPOSITION. No one has yet found a cheap way to provide the personalized, high-touch opportunities we offer to our students. And remember that the “sticker price” of a college education never reflects its full cost. On average, we spend nearly 20 percent more on each student than we charge, with that 20 percent coming from the endowment and fundraising.

What we do at Skidmore is highly labor-intensive. You just can’t teach the way we do if you routinely have 100 or even 50 students in a class. And you can’t do it electronically. Online courses have their place both in the world at large and at Skidmore, and we are exploring how best to take advantage of the opportunities they represent to enhance our students’ educational experiences. But the core of what we offer requires personal interactions between real people in real time. It happens in the classroom, the studio, the lab, and also in residence halls, in the dining hall, and on the athletic field. Through these interactions, we challenge our students to think imaginatively about the subjects they are studying, about themselves as they develop, and about the world around them.

Certainly, we must find ways to contain costs. We ask ourselves constantly how to be as strategic and efficient as possible in directing our resources. But the more important question is about value: How do investments in education help us to achieve our aspirations—as individuals and as a nation? How can we assure that our graduates use their Skidmore experiences to help solve the world’s problems?

The answer is extraordinary teaching. It requires the strongest possible faculty—some of the best full-time teacher-scholars in the world—not teaching assistants just learning the ropes or adjuncts dividing their time between schools. And we must support our professors with state-of-the-art facilities and the most up-to-date technology: computers, “smart” classrooms, electron microscopes, 3-D printers.

We are defined by our understanding that students are not passive, empty vessels into which professors simply pour their wisdom. We know that teaching and learning are most successful when they are highly interactive: when professors engage their students as individuals and encourage them to ask questions and create their own solutions to important problems.

When I was teaching, I could tell immediately whether my students were connecting with our discussions, and I could often anticipate their questions. I knew them as individuals, and those relationships enabled me to tailor what we were doing in the classroom to what they needed at a given moment. It wasn’t a one-way lecture that could be captured, canned, and televised. It was a genuine conversation in which my students and I both changed our thinking. Skidmore professors teach in precisely this way.

When I was teaching, I could tell immediately whether my students were connecting with our discussions, and I could often anticipate their questions. I knew them as individuals, and those relationships enabled me to tailor what we were doing in the classroom to what they needed at a given moment. It wasn’t a one-way lecture that could be captured, canned, and televised. It was a genuine conversation in which my students and I both changed our thinking. Skidmore professors teach in precisely this way.

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WHY DO YOU TALK SO
MUCH ABOUT ACCESS?

EARLIER THIS YEAR I WAS ONE OF THE UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS INVITED TO A HIGHER-EDUCATION SUMMIT AT THE WHITE HOUSE. President Obama urged us, along with leaders of major businesses and foundations, to work together to improve access and opportunity. He and Mrs. Obama shared personal stories of how education transformed their own lives. They challenged us to enable more low-income students to experience similar transformations, and we agreed to increase our efforts.

The unfortunate truth is that a young person born into the lowest economic quartile of our society—the bottom 25 percent—has only a 9 percent chance of earning a college degree. By contrast, a child born into the top economic quartile has an 80 to 90 percent likelihood of graduating from college. That disparity represents both a human and a national tragedy. Skidmore College is committed to doing its part to remedy this situation.

The reasons for our commitment are clear. If a Skidmore education were available only to those who could afford it, we would have a much less diverse student body, and we would not be helping to increase opportunity and social mobility for everyone willing to work hard to achieve it. That’s the reason we have more than doubled our need-based financial aid in my time as president. It’s why we continue to seekout students who are strivers, who have the ability and desire, but not necessarily the financial means or opportunities, to develop and realize their talents.

Today 44 percent of our students benefit from scholarships. In the future, extending such assistance to an even broader segment of the Skidmore student body—ideally, to talented students from middle-class backgrounds whose families are particularly challenged to meet college expenses—will remain one of our highest priorities and will require us to find new resources for expanding financial aid.

But we also need to shift the national conversation about the cost of higher education back to one focused on investment in the future. Consider one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in American history: the 1950s. That decade’s economic progress was fueled by education. Veterans returned from World War II and went to college in unprecedented numbers—many of them financed by a massive federal assistance program, the GI Bill. This new generation of college graduates became the driving engine for a period of unprecedented economic growth. Near the end of that decade, when the Space Race heated up, we poured even more resources into science and technology education, and we are still reaping the dividends of those investments. But we are failing to make new ones.

Competitor nations are directing substantial new resources toward their upcoming generations of students. They’ve seen what the U.S. accomplished by making higher education a priority, and they want similar results. If we are to prevail on this highly charged global playing field, we must reinvest in our nation’s future. That means a better education for all of our citizens.