Used by permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald.
By Cindy V. Culp
Tribune-Herald staff writer
In response to students' concerns about the rising cost of higher education, Baylor University is launching a campaign to raise $100 million for scholarships.
Called the President's Scholarship Initiative, the effort will be formally announced today.
It is the first major project for Ken Starr, who became Baylor's president in June but is officially being inaugurated this week.
Starr isn't merely spearheading the campaign. After the regents approved the effort this summer, he and his wife pledged $100,000 to it.
Noting that many students leave school with crushing debt, Starr said the cost issue has become a "crisis for American higher education."
Institutions like Baylor have a moral imperative to help solve the problem, he said.
"Overwhelmingly, we look to individual families and the government (to pay for college)," Starr said. "We've got to change that model."
The goal is for Baylor to raise the money within the next three years, Starr said.
It will go into an endowment and be used for four purposes: need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships, athletic scholarships and out-of-classroom enrichment, such as study abroad opportunities and missions.
The initiative bubbled from work done by Baylor's student government leaders.
They conducted a survey last spring that asked students about their biggest concerns related to college life. By far, cost was the overriding response, student body president Michael Wright said.
After getting that data, student government leaders decided to take action, Wright said. They collected stories from students struggling to stay in school due to cost and presented the information to Baylor administrators and regents.
From the start, Baylor's leadership was supportive, Wright said.
"It's just great to see this as a direct result," Wright said. "We just hope the Baylor nation will rise up, just like they have with our athletics, to support this initiative."
Starr talks about the campaign with a sense of urgency. He said he is keenly aware that tuition increases like the 6.5 percent hike Baylor just announced can force existing students out of school and keep prospective ones from enrolling.
Some people argue universities should simply cut costs to make tuition more affordable, but Starr said he doesn't see that as the best strategy.
Quality education isn't cheap, especially since students are being cared for more holistically than in decades past, he said. Universities now are tasked with offering everything from top-notch academic instruction and career placement services to 24-7 security and recreational offerings, he said.
"We're not a community college, and we can't be charging tuition levels like we are (a community college)," Starr said.
Helping the students
The better approach is to figure out ways to help students bear the cost, Starr said.
Endowment-funded scholarships can play an important role, but only if the endowment increases as costs go up. That has not been the case at Baylor, he noted.
When next year's tuition increase goes into effect, the price of full-time tuition will be $28,720. That is an increase of more than 50 percent since the 2005-06 school year.
Baylor's endowment, on the other hand, has remained largely stagnant during the past decade, Starr said.
Numbers provided by the university showed the endowment was $645.1 million in 2000. As of May of this year, it was $871.96 million.
The past decade has been economically challenging, which helps explain the lack of growth, Starr said, adding Baylor needs to look to the future.
"It's a new decade, and we've got to march on," Starr said.
For the scholarship initiative to be successful, Baylor will have to do a better job of creating a "culture of giving," Starr said.
Only 6.8 percent of the school's 144,000 alumni contribute financially. That percentage should be at least in the 15 percent to 20 percent range, he said.
If all alumni did something as simple as forgoing a cup of pricey coffee each week and donated that money, it would make a huge difference, Starr said.
"If they love Baylor, they will find a way, " he said.
In addition to Starr, two Baylor regents already have pledged money toward the effort.
Bob Beauchamp and his wife, Laura, of Houston, have committed $100,000.
Richard Willis and his wife, Karen, of Colleyville, have agreed to donate $1 million.
They also are heading up the steering committee for the initiative.
Richard Willis said he is optimistic Baylor can achieve the fundraising goal because scholarships have such a direct, tangible impact on students.
"This initiative will be one everybody can identify with," Willis said.