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A Special Bond
Why Penn must increase its endowment for scholarships.
By Judith Rodin

As thoughts of Spring turn to Commencement, I find myself reminiscing about my own experiences as a student at Penn and my debt to Penn. Like many alumni, I count myself truly blessed to have attended a University that broadened my intellectual horizons and career prospects far beyond my wildest dreams. I could fill this entire column just by completing the sentence, “If not for Penn, I never would have …”

At the same time, I am forever grateful to the donors whose generosity enabled a Philadelphia girl with boundless energy and curiosity to attend a great university like Penn on a scholarship at a critical moment in her life. Like former and current trustee chairmen Roy Vagelos C’50 Hon’99 and Jim Riepe W’65 WG’67, trustees Jon Huntsman W’59 Hon’96 and David Pottruck C’70 WG’72, and so many other Penn alumni, I recognize all the doors that only Penn could have opened for me, and I simply cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had I gone elsewhere to college.

Nor can I imagine Penn without our students on scholarship. Today, as I prepare to preside over my ninth Commencement exercises, I rejoice over the accomplishments of all our graduates. Yet, I confess that I feel a special bond with those talented, idealistic, and extremely industrious young women and men, who, but for the generosity and vision of our donors, might have lost a unique opportunity to blossom into wise, humane, and extraordinary citizens and leaders of industry, business, government, and academe.

While Penn has enriched their lives, these students have contributed beyond measure to the academic, social, and cultural life of this University, as well as to the broader community. When you consider the impact of these men and women as researchers, student leaders, athletes, advisors, artists, mentors, and student workers, you realize how much their absence would impoverish our community of scholars.

Maintaining a “need-blind” admissions policy is absolutely critical to Penn’s academic strength and success as one of the country’s most selective universities. By accepting students without first determining their ability to pay, Penn is able to attract and enroll the most qualified students from all economic, social, cultural, and geographical backgrounds.

Unfortunately, Penn currently cannot rely on a large scholarship endowment to support student aid. In fact, endowment covers only 11 percent of our financial aid budget. The remaining funds come out of our annual operating budget. And Penn trails only Harvard in total dollars that we contribute to financial aid.

How do we compare to our peers in supporting financial aid out of scholarship endowments? In a word, poorly.

Granted, it wasn’t until 1996 that Penn got serious about competing in this particular area of fundraising. Nonetheless, the standings for scholarship support from endowment funds do not lie. Among the “Ivy Plus” institutions (Princeton, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and Penn), we rank dead last. Even Brown, which ranks next to last on this list, is far ahead of Penn. And while I am pleased that our Quakers now own the Tigers in football and basketball, I would be ecstatic if Penn had Princeton’s number—100 percent!—in the scholarship endowment arena.

In the best of economic times, these numbers should kindle our competitive fires to build our scholarship endowment to greater levels.

But we are now living through very tough economic times in which Penn needs more of its alumni rallying to support our students on scholarship. As I write this column, The New York Times reports that more than 100,000 Americans lost their jobs the previous month. Some of those Americans are Penn parents, and their children have had no choice but to seek more financial assistance from us.

Penn is fortunate to have many benefactors who have experienced the joy of endowing individual scholarships. They become second families to our students, who in turn make their benefactors enormously proud.

Penn is equally fortunate to have many other alumni whose gifts make it possible for the University to give financial assistance to more than 40 percent of our students. By investing in Penn’s scholarship endowment, you are helping us educate the world’s ablest students and thus contribute to the advancement of knowledge and society as a whole. Our students’ future is in your hands.

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2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 04/28/03