Antioch College recently announced that it received an anonymous donation of more than $1 million earmarked for scholarships. The gift was not an anomaly for a college almost entirely dependent upon donations, but it is significant in that it supports the college’s mission to enroll those who wouldn’t typically be able to afford a private liberal arts education, college leaders said this week.
The gift, which was received in December, is designated for scholarships for students who are the first in their family to attend college — so-called first-generation college students — as well as self-declared environmental science majors.
Dean of Admissions Micah Canal said the scholarship, along with other recent donations, help the college “serve communities that are under-served,” including students who are ethnic minorities or are from low-income households.
“In short we are really putting the opportunity of a private college education in the hands of those who are otherwise not able to contemplate it from a financial standpoint,” Canal said. The scholarships will be especially important as the college begins to phase out the full-tuition Horace Mann Fellowships next fall, when they will be cut in half, Canal added.
President Mark Roosevelt said this week that all financial gifts it receives are important because the college relies more on fundraising compared to other colleges, which operate largely from student-derived revenue and interest on their endowment. He added that while $1 million gifts are not unheard of at the college, they are significant.
“What’s different about us is that our scholarships and all the rest of our work is being driven by philanthropy — and, yes, $1 million is a big donation for us,” Roosevelt said.
The donor, who preferred to remain anonymous, has contributed to the college previously and the gift was “not out of the blue,” Roosevelt added.
For the next few years, Antioch must raise between $15 and $19 million to pay for student scholarships and capital expenses on top of its regular operations, according to Roosevelt. He estimates that in four or five years, once facility renovations are mostly complete and the college is accredited, fundraising needs will drop to only $9 million per year, an amount he called “doable.”
Roosevelt said new data showing that the majority of American public school students are now low-income and minority gives the college additional impetus to be accessible.
“The world is changing demographically very fast and we want to be ahead of that curve rather than behind it,” Roosevelt said. “And all the research is showing that experiential education is particularly powerful for low-income and ‘first-gen’ students.”
Antioch already may be more diverse than similar small liberal arts colleges, with first-generation college students making up nearly one-third of the class that entered in the fall of 2014, according to Canal. The college estimates that between 40 and 50 percent of the Antioch student population is eligible for a need-based federal Pell grant, an amount that is double that of Vassar and Grinnell, which are hailed as the most economically-diverse top colleges, Roosevelt said. Antioch has a current enrollment just shy of 250 students.
While Antioch already provides need-based scholarships to its students that cover up to 95 percent of the direct costs of attending the college, the scholarship money will allow Antioch to better market its accessibility during recruiting, Canal explained. Because Antioch received its candidacy for accreditation last year, the school also hopes to begin offering federal financial aid to all of its students in fall 2015. A half-tuition Horace Mann Fellowship will be continued through at least 2016, Canal added.
Canal said that not only does more diversity lead to richer classroom interactions, but learning to relate — and live with — one another can build relationships that affect students for the rest of their lives. Canal added that a student’s education shouldn’t be based upon whether their parents went to college or whether they have money but rather on what the student has accomplished.
“It’s a unique college — a college for thinkers and doers — and we think that it makes sense to deliver that model to as many different sorts of people as possible,” Canal said.
Meanwhile, the environmental science scholarships will allow the college to target high school seniors interested in that major. The scholarship will cover about 10 students per year, Roosevelt said. He added that the recently reopened Science Building, though still under renovation, will accommodate the program.