"The model of financing for higher education in the United States is broken," says Baylor University President Ken Starr. "It has been broken for some time, and Baylor University has not been immune from that condition of brokenness.
"Unfortunately, I do not have a magical cure. What I do know is that we need relief for our students, and that means a caring community coming together to share the responsibility for the educational enterprise and to be a meaningful part of the solution to the cost of educating our students at Baylor."
Toward such an end, in mid-September, Starr announced the launch of a three-year initiative that aims to raise $100 million exclusively for scholarships. Gifts to "How Extraordinary the Stories: The President's Scholarship Initiative" will help enhance access to a distinct and meaningful education for those at the heart of Baylor's mission: our students.
There's no doubt that higher education is today more expensive than ever. Gone are the days of $50-an-hour tuition. Obviously inflation is one reason for the rising costs, but there are other factors at work as well.
Higher education today incorporates a wide range of institutions. On one end of the spectrum are the for-profit, online degree-granting schools such as the University of Phoenix, which are streamlined, budget-centric operations. On the other end are the major residential research universities that are campus-centric, with research centers and small classes, moving forward with the discovery of knowledge.
"Baylor clearly sits in that second camp," says Dr. Reagan Ramsower, BBA '74, MS '76, vice president for finance and administration. "But that end of the spectrum is not focused on providing the most cost-efficient, lowest-priced education available. It's focused on providing the highest quality educational experience possible.
"So if someone is looking for us to say, 'We want to provide a classroom environment that delivers the lowest cost per hour of instruction,' well, we just don't do that. We don't look at our classrooms and say, 'Let's see if we can put 300 people in here, and have a grad assistant teaching it, and maybe the professor comes by a few times a semester.' That's not who we have ever been, and that's not who we are."
Another primary driver of higher costs has been heightened expectations among students and their families about what the college experience should include today.
"Much of this has been created by the ever-increasing standard of living to which Americans have grown accustomed," says Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life. "For instance, a recent study indicated that only 10 percent of the students entering college today grew up sharing a bedroom. That translates into students now expecting more personal space in residence halls, which means private or semi-private living arrangements -- which costs more.
"There is also an expectation that students will receive greater personal attention. Much has been written about today's generation of 'Millenials' having been provided more structure and attention as children. Parents transfer that expectation to higher education as their sons and daughters go off to college," Jackson continues.
"Such expectations translate into increased costs for on-campus health care services, counseling services, residence hall supervision, dining options, campus security, and so on. There's also our transition to the information age, which places a significant financial burden on colleges and universities through technology and infrastructure costs as we aim to prepare our students for an increasingly connected world."
These sorts of costs are felt at any institution of higher education -- but Baylor seeks to be more than just "any institution." Baylor stands out among colleges and universities nationwide for its distinct mission of integrating Christian faith and a rigorous education.
"Just as a recent example, I'd point to the study from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that was released this summer and gave Baylor an 'A' for its core curriculum -- one of only 16 universities nationwide to receive that mark," says Starr. "When I was back on the East Coast two weeks ago, I told people that Baylor University requires its students to understand the constitutional structure of the American republic. You would think every college and university would require that, but the statement was met with huzzahs and expressions of 'What a breath of fresh air.' So one has here at Baylor an education for citizenship, but in the context of a Christian university, one that treasures its Baptist heritage."
In order to foster that environment, Baylor supports a variety of offerings not found at other schools. From incorporating residential chaplains and faculty into residential living communities, to working with faculty to sponsor discipline-specific mission trips that encourage students to apply what they learn in the classroom through service to others, Baylor repeatedly seeks to challenge students to not only learn about leadership, but to become leaders within an environment that reinforces a Christian worldview of what it means to influence others.
"In the end, our goal is not just education, as important as that is," says Jackson. "It's transformation -- the renewing of the heart, mind and spirit so that our students can go forth and be worldwide leaders and servants."
Baylor graduates make a difference in the world
The exceptional education and environment found at Baylor results in graduates who are unique individuals, bringing to their careers a professionalism that is complemented by a strong sense of citizenship, responsibility and personal faith.
"We consistently hear from recruiters who visit campus that Baylor students are very well prepared to enter the workforce," says Kevin Nall, BA '90, MBA '96, associate director for career services. "They don't just make recommendations about an issue; they then aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and actually do the work that needs to be done."
Companies that hire Baylor graduates repeatedly report back that Bears stand out for their strong work ethic, enthusiasm, ethical practices and well-rounded college experiences.
Baylor graduates enter all fields, from business to the arts, science to education, ministry to law. And while some of them will go on to become the next Fortune 500 CEO, highly published researcher or megachurch pastor, many will impact the world in ways that don't make headlines but do have real effects.
"Not everyone is destined to be a Nobel laureate, but our graduates are individuals who will be great contributors to their communities, to their families, to their churches, and we want, in the spirit of Christian hospitality, to welcome all those who are qualified to carry on the work here," says Starr. "Obviously we can't admit 30,000 people a year, but we certainly would not want someone who is well-qualified to attend Baylor to be prevented or substantially impaired from coming here by virtue of the cost of higher education."
If the costs of higher education continue to rise at their current rates, more and more Americans will indeed be priced out of a college education -- with potentially disastrous effects.
"In light of the struggles of both federal and state governments to make ends meet, American higher education will not retain its current vibrancy," predicts Starr. "What that means specifically, I don't know, but it would presumably mean we'd simply cede academic leadership to other countries that have found a better model for financing of education and research.
"We will have failed. The great American experiment of four centuries of emphasis on higher education will have been seriously eroded. And that has at least potentially baleful consequences, not only for economic prosperity, but also for citizenship, because one of the reasons we remain such a vibrant democracy and a constitutional republic, the oldest in the history of the planet, is because of the democratization of American higher education.
"I think there's an overall sense in the country that the values of the Declaration of Independence -- equality, openness, opportunity -- are being eroded. And I think one of the reasons for that is because of what is happening in American higher education."
The way to fight that, as Starr and others see it, is to reduce the percentage of the costs that must be borne by the student and his or her family. And the best way to do that is by raising the endowment to support scholarships for not only today's students, but those who will come in the future as well.
The basic concept of an endowed scholarship is this: Gifts are placed in a permanent fund, and a portion of the income earned from that fund provides scholarship assistance for all generations to come.
"The beauty of an endowed gift is that year after year after year, a student -- or more than one student -- is going to be helped by an individual's gift," says Starr. "Think of that long Baylor line of individuals who a single alumna or alumnus can support, in perpetuity. What a joy that is!
"The influence of a specific individual is virtually limitless. Think of the scholarship that empowers a young person to do her work in pre-health, and who comes alongside Dr. Kevin Pinney doing cancer research. Who knows what that research will yield? Who knows the effect of a contribution to a student-athlete that then enables that student-athlete to be here, to perform in a way that inspires other young people to do the very best they can? These are small stones tossed into the pond that create ripples that are of just unimaginably positive consequence. There will be very happy consequences of an eternal nature by facilitating the future pastors and doctors and scientists and even, yes, the future lawyers and judges entering these halls and having the experience that is the Baylor experience."
Even before his tenure at Baylor officially began, Starr made clear that the welfare of students would be a top priority. Among his first meetings after being introduced as Baylor's 14th president in February was a gathering with Student Government officials.
Shortly before Starr's arrival at Baylor, Student Government conducted a survey of the student body to find out what was on their minds, both what was going well and what concerns they held.
"Affordability was students' overwhelming number one concern," recalls senior Michael Wright, then the internal vice president and this year's student body president. "Two-thirds of the respondents said they knew someone who had to leave Baylor due to finances."
Student Government took the data from the survey and subsequent follow-up discussions on the issue to the administration, meeting over the course of the 2009-10 school year with Ramsower, Jackson, representatives from University Development, then Interim President David E. Garland, incoming President Starr and members of the Board of Regents.
"The message was, 'We see a problem here, and we need help. One way to address this would be to increase the endowment specifically for scholarships,'" Wright says. "The response from the administration was tremendous. It's been a great example of how students and administrators and Regents can collaborate to come up with solutions to the issues that higher education and specifically Baylor are facing right now."
"During our very first meeting, and even more so as I transitioned into office this spring, I saw firsthand the splendid work of Student Government, responding to guidance from the Board of Regents and going forward in a very careful and deliberative manner in securing the views of the student body and then formulating a very thoughtful proposal with respect to providing a specific, targeted scholarship effort," says Starr.
With that in mind, the need to improve Baylor's student scholarship offerings quickly became Starr's top priority, continually finding a place in his public communications since those February meetings. On his first day in office, Starr sent a letter to the entire Baylor family that pointed out those needs, and he again emphasized that message in a first-day press conference.
"I've reached out today ... as my first official communication to the extended Baylor family, to say, 'Let's work together on scholarships for our students. Let's make a Baylor education affordable and accessible to each and every person who is qualified and wants to come,'" Starr told a group of reporters on June 1.
After the conference realignment scare later that month, Starr returned to addressing the need for supporting student scholarships, a message he maintained leading up to the launch of this scholarship initiative and even into his inaugural response (see page 30).
"It cannot be any longer that the student graduates, repays whatever loans, and then says farewell, financially," Starr says. "There must be a culture of a continuing moral commitment to the education of the generations to come.
"In my short time at Baylor, I've met thousands of members of the Baylor family who talk about their love for Baylor, their great memories of Baylor, their dedication to Baylor. For those people, this is a love test -- will their actions demonstrate their love and commitment to not only the university, but to the students who have followed in their footsteps?
"We know that not everyone can give millions of dollars, and that's okay. We simply ask each person to search his or her heart, to think about, 'What can I do?' Like the widow's mite, each gift is as honored and valued as the next, and each will make a difference in the lives of our students."
Starr notes that every show of support for Baylor, from financial gifts to activities such as attending athletic events, is important and much appreciated. "But the way to show that you're a real member of the family is to contribute to the family's well-being, especially when we're talking about the youngest members of our family.
"Alumni have a moral responsibility to support those who have come behind them and not to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the profound needs of the generation that is coming now to these beautiful, storied halls, and those will come down the years. These are the students who will write the next generation of extraordinary stories about the Baylor experience."