GOAL II: Access
To Ensure Access for All Our Students to an Extraordinary Educational Experience: Students will have full access to opportunities for educational excellence across all three phases of their Skidmore careers—at admission, as undergraduate learners, and in transitioning to their postcollege lives.
Access to Admission
Consider the following information: A teenager from a family in the lowest income
quartile in the United States has a 9% chance of graduating from college, while a
teenager from a family in the highest income quartile has a 90% chance. The consequences
of that disparity play out across a lifetime. A comparison of average income among
families of college students nationwide demonstrates the power of higher education:
the average family income of first-generation students is $37,500, compared to $99,600
for students whose parents attended college.6 For the nation, this disparity represents an unacceptable waste of intellectual
and creative potential; and for individuals, it contributes to entrenched poverty
and lack of upward socioeconomic mobility.
Skidmore has long embraced access to higher education as an institutional responsibility, and our recent investments in financial aid have yielded tremendous advances. Over the last 10 years, we have increased annual budgetary provision for financial aid by more than 150%, from $16 million to more than $42 million. This strategic investment in our students has enabled us to keep the average net cost to families receiving institutional aid relatively constant, even as our comprehensive fee has increased.7 It also has enabled us to attract an academically more prepared and significantly more diverse student body.8 These achievements are being threatened, however, by larger shifts in the economy. One of the most significant is the discrepancy between increases in college fees and median family income, which has been stagnant for some time.9 Since that gap is likely to continue to widen, our ability to meet the need of lower-income and working-class families will be tested all the more.
As we look toward 2025, we reaffirm our commitment to access and diversity, even as the College faces an increasingly challenging admissions landscape. In addition to greater demand for financial aid, we will face greater competition for students who do not require aid, especially from those institutions with tuition-driven business models.10 In the effort to enroll these students, many schools—private and, more recently, public—have come to rely more and more on so-called “merit” or “non-need-based” aid: scholarships aimed primarily at affecting choice that are provided to families in higher income brackets, often at the expense of need-based aid to families in lower ones. In the past, Skidmore has sharply limited the use of such practices, regarding them as inconsistent with our fundamental values.11 As we move forward, to ensure that we can continue to attract and enroll the most creative and promising students regardless of their financial means, we will monitor our admissions experience and remain committed to offering need-based aid as a core principle, even as we develop new, creative admissions strategies.
We also understand the value of attractive facilities in the admissions process. Thus we have benefited from the addition of the Northwoods and Sussman Village apartments, the renovated dining hall, the Tang Museum, the Zankel Music Center, and improvements to our athletic fields. Going forward, we expect to realize additional gains from the Center for Integrated Sciences, the further development of our athletic facilities in accordance with the Athletic Facilities Plan, and a new Admissions and Financial Aid building.
Access to Educational Opportunities
Admitting students is only the first step: if our goal is to engage all Skidmore students in liberal learning, they must have equal opportunity to participate
in the full range of curricular and cocurricular experiences the College offers. Unfortunately,
this ideal is not yet fully realized. The egalitarianism intrinsic to a student’s
pursuit of academic interests (enrollment in particular courses, choice of major or
minor) does not always translate to some elective experiences that can have a profound
influence on learning. As one example, first-generation college students from lower
income brackets are nearly absent from some research experiences in the physical and
life sciences.12 As a second example, credit-bearing internships during the academic year and summer
have historically been the domain of white, affluent students at Skidmore, with domestic
students of color and lower-income students underrepresented.13 Third, some students find it difficult to afford the cost of textbooks required in
Such realities stand at odds with our institutional values and can represent systemic barriers to achieving inclusive excellence. The fact that such obstacles can be successfully surmounted is illustrated by Skidmore’s evolving approach to international study. Prior to 2006, students were required to take leaves of absence to study at non-affiliated programs abroad. In this situation, students paid program providers directly, without the benefit of financial aid—not surprisingly, few students were able to access these programs, and international study was largely restricted to those from privileged backgrounds. Starting in fall 2006, Skidmore adopted a new policy that allows students to carry their financial aid to what has become our “approved programs” list. As a direct consequence of this institutional action, the total number of students studying abroad in approved programs has increased dramatically (by 147%), as have the numbers of lowest-income students, aided students, and domestic students of color.14
Similarly, building courses around open educational resources (OER) and primary sources housed at the Tang Museum and Scribner Library could significantly ease some financial burdens on students. As teaching-oriented institutions, the Tang and Scribner Library are building their rich collections around not only what is currently being taught on campus but also what could be taught in the future. As such, they are places ripe with potential inspiration for students from many backgrounds. Cultivating new holdings that allow a broader range of students to see themselves in the Tang’s and the Library’s collections could be a new way to help keep at-risk students engaged. Although financial constraints may explain some or even most barriers to participation, the situation is likely to be more complex for many students. For example, some students may lack knowledge about how to navigate the networking required for securing certain opportunities. Initiatives that both address financial constraints and make information more uniformly available are thus critical.15
Just as Skidmore is committed to providing access to the College and its many opportunities for theoretical and applied learning, we are also committed to supporting students in their determination to achieve. We expect Skidmore students, as they mature as learners during their time at the College, to take progressively more responsibility for their education, demonstrating agency when they encounter challenges within and outside of the classroom. We recognize, however, a growing disconnect between the preparation some students receive in their secondary education and the academic competencies and personal resilience we expect of entering students. Roughly 20% of our first-year students responding to the CIRP16 survey (overall response rate: 50%) report having sought remedial support in high school for reading and writing, and 25% sought such support for math. In addition, 92% of students entering Skidmore report feeling overwhelmed by all that they have to do. Similar patterns are seen at like colleges nationwide.17 Identifying the proper balance between providing students with needed support and giving them the space to experience the discomfort intrinsic to deep learning is a significant challenge. To do so will require highly creative and innovative approaches to fostering resilience, persistence, and self-efficacy. It also requires that all students learn the processes of research—particularly in their sophomore and junior years—so they understand what is involved in developing and pursuing a research agenda and can appreciate the time and attention required for successful scholarly work.
Access to the Postcollege World
The liberal arts curriculum has long been seen as the best possible preparation for
life after college. Today, more than ever before, we need to help our students understand
and articulate connections between the knowledge, skills, and capacities their liberal
arts education provides them and the professional, political, and social contexts
in which they will live their lives. Our challenge is to empower both our students
and Skidmore itself to make creative thought matter beyond our physical borders and to assist our graduates in making their first steps
into the world beyond Skidmore. We will accomplish these objectives through three
First, we will collectively assume responsibility for helping our students become more adept at describing to external audiences the skills and knowledge they have mastered in the course of their liberal education. The world needs first-rate thinkers now more than ever, and those thinkers disproportionally come from liberal arts colleges like Skidmore. But we must strengthen our students’ ability to communicate to others the value of this unique and transformative educational experience. Once again, open access provides one key to this effort, in two senses. On the one hand, students need access to library resources after they graduate, but they currently lose those privileges once they are no longer enrolled, mainly due to restrictive licensing agreements with publishers. The more that institutions of higher education commit to open-access publishing models, the more easily our alumni—both newly minted and past generations—can continue their lifelong learning. And on the other hand, sharing the fruits of their own intellectual work will help Skidmore students convey the value of their educational experience with a truly global reach.
Second, we need to see that engaged liberal learning practices that relate directly to our students’ post-Skidmore lives—such as writing-intensive courses, exploratory research opportunities, credit-bearing internships, summer collaborative research, etc.—are better supported. To that end, we will increase our efforts around, and provide additional resources for, undergraduate research, internships, SEE-Beyond opportunities, career development, and competitive scholarships and fellowships.
Third, we need to do a better job of engaging our alumni, parents, and friends in this enterprise: communicating with them, hearing their stories, providing them additional value from their ongoing relationship with the College, and seeking their support for current students and for our ongoing institutional efforts. In the end, our creativity imperative demands that we empower our students to make meaningful contributions beyond our physical borders; and that means we must pay even more attention to our students’ preparation for graduate study, professional study, and/or entry into professional careers.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL II: Access
Strengthen financial aid and outreach programs that enable the broadest range of students from across the country and around the world to attend Skidmore.
- Increase endowment support for financial aid budget by $2 million through successful completion of the Creating Our Future campaign [requires increasing endowment by $40 million].
- Explore an alternative admissions pathway that foregrounds creativity, and evaluate other admissions practices (e.g., use of standardized tests) that may serve to limit applicant pools.
- Develop Creativity Scholarship Program of need-based aid targeting highly creative students interested in all areas of the curriculum [requires increasing endowment by $10 million to support $125,000 of new awards to each class].
- Develop ways to recruit in new secondary schools in targeted areas (e.g., southern cities with substantial populations of professionals originally from other parts of the country).
- Explore ways to expand participation by all entering students in pre-orientation programs. [Additional funding required in annual budget: approximately $220,000.]
Strengthen programs that enhance access to academic opportunities for all students.
- Expand the Summer Educational Experiences—Beyond the Campus (SEE-Beyond), SSFIAP (Skidmore Summer Funded Internship Award Program), and collaborative research programs—to ensure that all students engage in at least one such experience prior to graduation. Establish fundraising goals to support these initiatives [requires increasing endowment by $50 million].
- Increase our commitment to open educational resources (OER) in order to ensure that Skidmore students have access to sources without needing to pay out of pocket.
Develop new creative ways to position Skidmore graduates to take their initial steps into their postcollege lives and enhance ongoing career support for all graduates.
- Assist students in establishing goals for their first year out of college, while encouraging them to work with the Career Development Center beyond graduation to make continuing and effective progress along their unique career paths. Establish metrics to track outcomes. Use that information to further enhance programs to assist students in making the transition from their undergraduate careers to their later lives.
- Set and achieve targets for percentage of students in each graduating class who make use of the Career Development Center; identify and track outcome targets associated with this activity.
- Archive high-quality student research in Skidmore’s institutional repository, Creative Matter, so that it will be preserved and made available to scholars from around the world far into the future, and so that it can be used by our graduates to demonstrate past accomplishments.
- Strengthen affinity networks (e.g., SkidBiz, Visual Arts) and establish new ones to
further engage alumni and parents creatively in positioning our graduates to achieve
their professional goals.
6Chronicle of Higher Education (22 May 2015).
7 In the period from FY 2008 through FY 2014, as Skidmore’s comprehensive fee increased from approximately $46,000 to $60,000, the average net cost to first-year students receiving institutional aid remained relatively flat.
8 Compared to their unaided peers, aided students are overrepresented among the higher AQR bands. Among 5,098 students entering FY 2005–FY 2012, 36% of aided students were in the top AQR bands compared to 15.8% of unaided students. (Academic Quality Rating, AQR, is a subjective assessment of the academic preparation of Skidmore applicants made by Admissions staff based on the strength of the student’s high school, schedule, grade outcomes, etc.)
9 From 1982 to 2013, comprehensive fees at private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 167%, while comprehensive fees at public four-year institutions rose 257%. Across this same period, however, median family incomes remained essentially flat.
10 Skidmore’s business model currently requires approximately 55% of students to pay the full comprehensive fee. Altering this situation will require increased endowment support for additional need-based financial aid—a priority of the current comprehensive campaign.
11 The College does provide a small amount of non-need-based aid in the form of Filene and Porter Scholarships; these scholarships are not directed at full-pay students and account for only about 1% of the financial aid budget for students entering in fall 2015.
12 College students, but only 2 of those 18 were among those in the lowest income group at Skidmore (as determined by Federal Pell Grant eligibility). Similarly, 11 of 78 students recruited into summer Faculty-Student Collaborative Research in 2014 were first-generation students, but only 2 of those were Pell-eligible. Roughly half of all first-generation students at Skidmore (and in the physical and life sciences) are Pell-eligible.
13 Committee for Educational Policy and Planning (CEPP), “Engaged Liberal Learning Practices: Participation Rates and Consequences,” 2012.
14 Compare the 2004–2005 and the 2013–2014 academic years in terms of access to study-abroad opportunities: 3 vs. 23 Pell-eligible students; 16 vs. 71 aided students; 7 vs. 44 domestic students of color.
15 As one more example, consider the SEE-Beyond Program, which invites students to identify
an integrative summer experience that will deepen their understanding of the major
or minor. Tips developed by faculty through the Pathways Project are easily accessible
and help guide students to rigorous experiences, and the award itself ($4,000) is
sufficient to meet aided students’ summer financial obligations. In 2014, applications
were submitted by students in nearly every department and program; moreover, international
students, domestic students of color, and low-income students were actually overrepresented
16 This national survey of first-year students is administered annually by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) of the Graduate School of Education and Information Resources at UCLA.
17 CIRP Freshman Survey, 2014.