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As a college president, I am deeply concerned when I read that the level of public trust in higher education has declined. An October 2018 Gallup poll, for example, found that public confidence in higher education had fallen from 57 percent in 2015 to 48 percent in 2018, with the largest decline occurring among Republicans (56 percent to 39 percent). I am also worried that the recent college admissions scandal will erode further public confidence in higher education. In this month’s letter, I begin by sharing some thoughts about this troubling episode and what we can learn from it.
At the outset, it is important to note that although this investigation of college admissions has received considerable attention in the press, the breadth of the scandal does not seem to be very broad. Those implicated are limited to an owner and the employees of a single independent college counseling service, a few athletic coaches at nine universities, thirty-three parents, and two SAT test administrators. While I strongly deplore the illegal and unethical behaviors that have been revealed, I am also confident that they are anomalies within a system where most admissions offices act with integrity. We should remember that every year thousands of decisions about college applications are made with great care and no hint of impropriety. Indeed, I can assure the alumni of Lycoming College that we operate our admissions office with the highest degree of integrity.
A recent editorial by Heidi Stevens in the Chicago Tribune focuses on another troubling message that emerges from this scandal: that the prestige of the institutions to which a student is admitted is valued more than the life-changing experiences provided by a college education. Stevens makes the point this way: “College is a feast. You fill your mind with ideas and you just keep getting hungrier. You binge on new philosophies. You try on new personalities. You fall in love with new friends, new books, new buildings, new partners. You get your heart broken. You keep going. You grow… College doesn’t define you. College shapes you.”
There is much wisdom in Stevens’ words. They remind us that while we should be proud that the profile and the prestige of Lycoming College has been enhanced, the core purpose of our Strategic Plan and The Campaign for a Greater Lycoming has been improving the educational experience of students. We have provided greater access to high impact learning such as internships, study abroad, and research with faculty. We have created new academic programs and strengthened existing ones. We have enriched campus life by focusing on recruiting students from many places and backgrounds. We have developed a high caliber first-rate student life program in outdoor leadership and education. We have constructed and renovated spaces where faculty teach and students learn. At the risk of overextending the metaphor, we have invested in the quality of the “feast” that we offer.
We are now approaching the end of The Campaign for a Greater Lycoming. We will close the books on June 30, 2019, and we will celebrate on October 5. The philanthropic support of the Campaign and its impact are already inspiring, but our vision for excellence is bold and ambitious. More resources are needed so that we can continue investing in the future of the College, its faculty, and its students.
In that spirit, I would like to close by inviting you to join me in participating in the Day of Giving planned for Wednesday, April 24. Every gift — regardless of its size or designation — makes a difference. Your support will help us invest in the quality of the Lycoming experience. It will provide funding to create the coveted degree of the future, fuel the next generation of Warriors, transform our campus, and leverage our collective strength. It will enable us to recruit Warriors who think deeply and act boldly.
Kent C. Trachte, Ph.D., is the 15th president of Lycoming College.