Supporting CALS Students
One year ago, global financial markets gave way, precipitating a deep recession that has squeezed many families—from large metropolitan centers to suburban areas to rural towns. As we begin a new academic year, the severe downturn hampers the ability of families at every level of society to pay for college. Yet, for most students, higher education continues to be the best means to expand one’s intellect and embark on a rewarding career path. And our college has a responsibility to educate the next generation of scholars and leaders who can revitalize our economy and make important discoveries for the good of society.
Scholarship support is critical to CALS’ goal of maintaining access to higher education during these challenging times. CALS strongly supports Cornell President David Skorton’s pledge to place student aid at the center of Far Above . . .The Campaign for Cornell. In 2009–2010, the university will substantially increase its investment in students from lower- and middle-class families and eliminate loans for students who come from households making less than $75,000 per year.
Across Cornell, nearly one in two undergraduates receives some form of need-based aid. In CALS, the scholarship need is most acute: 60 percent of our undergraduates receive need-based aid, the highest share of any college at Cornell. In the previous academic year, the average financial hardship for eligible CALS students was more than $28,000. During the same period, state and federal support for financial aid (grants, loans, and work-study funding) declined from one-half to nearly one-fourth of Cornell’s financial aid budget.
Aware of these realities, my husband, Peter, and I recently established a $100,000 scholarship fund directed at students from rural New York. While the challenges facing urban students are well-documented, the hardships of rural students are often overlooked. As I enter my final year as dean, Peter and I felt this gift would be the most meaningful way we could assist students for years to come.
Much like their peers in urban centers, students from rural areas face significant obstacles in applying to, being accepted, and paying for college. For one, they often attend schools that lack resources, such as Advanced Placement courses and SAT preparation support, found in more prosperous districts. In fact, the state classifies almost half of its 356 rural school districts as “high need.” The New York State Center for Rural Schools, directed by education professor John Sipple, is helping to correct that imbalance by serving rural communities across the state.
Even when they overcome these barriers and are accepted to Cornell, rural students, in some cases, are asked to contribute beyond their means to their tuition. On paper, farm families appear to have significant real estate assets that could be used to finance a child’s education. In reality, however, most agricultural operations would be devastated if they were forced to sell off land to pay for college. Professors Wayne Knoblauch and Brent Gloy, agricultural economists in the Department of Applied Economics and Management, have worked closely with the Financial Aid Office to make the expected family contribution more equitable for students from working farms. As a result, rural students will see more affordable tuition costs and be more likely to enroll at Cornell.
The college also continues to update its curriculum and recruitment strategies to appeal to students from rural areas. Last fall, CALS added a Viticulture and Enology major, which has already drawn numerous students from winemaking families. (Read about the new CALS Teaching Winery.) The Agricultural Sciences major, launched in 2007, provides students with an interdisciplinary education in the biological, social, and economic foundations of agriculture. Attracted by these and other majors, the CALS Class of 2013 includes more than 40 students from farm families, along with an additional 130 students with agricultural, FFA, or 4-H experience.
It’s not only students from under-resourced rural schools who gain from scholarships. CALS attracts many undergraduates from large cities, where schools often suffer from limited funding and many families live on meager incomes. For all of our students, scholarship support helps ensure that one’s financial means never stands in the way of a Cornell education.
To learn more about giving opportunities related to undergraduate scholarships for Cornell’s urban or rural applicants, I encourage you to visit www.campaign.cornell.edu/scholarship-aid.cfm.
Susan A. Henry, PhD,
The Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences