Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student
Earlier this semester, Bates announced that a challenge grant of $50 million had been given to the college from the Schuler Access Initiative to support more Federal Pell Grant-eligible, low-income and undocmented students. Schuler will match every dollar raised by Bates donors over the next 10 years, funding a $100 million expansion in financial aid.
The grant will allow for about 25 more Pell-eligible, low-income and undocumented students to be enrolled per entering class, which means that within the next four years, there will be 100 more of these students on campus that would not otherwise be without the grant.
“It is really a moment of incredible opportunity as we think about providing a Bates education for these students, but also a little bit more institutional freedom when we think about how we use the current financial aid budget in addition to Schuler,” said Leigh Weisenburger, the Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.
In a Bates News article, President Clayton Spencer stated, “Bates was founded by people who believed in the power of education to develop the full potential of every human being… I am thrilled that we will be able to make the life-transforming experience of the liberal arts available to even greater numbers of talented students who might not otherwise have this opportunity.”
Focused on the value of the liberal arts education, the Schuler Education Foundation is a philanthropic organization that provides opportunity and access for students from low-income families and underrepresented groups to top-tier liberal arts institutions.
“We recognize that many deserving students entering high school in disadvantaged school districts and under-resourced families lack the tools and guidance necessary to gain admittance to and succeed at top-tier liberal arts colleges. Therefore, we believe that investing our philanthropic support in high-achieving underrepresented—often first-generation, low-income—students and top-tier American liberal arts colleges will help secure the success of individuals and communities,” their mission reads.
Over the course of 10 years, the money fundraised by the college will be placed in an endowment to gain interest while the $50 million from Schuler will be used to fund the financial aid of students from low income families. This ensures that the initiative will be funded for at least the next 20 years.
So far, Bates has already raised $30 million and is more than halfway to their goal of $50 million. Schuler has also offered to give an additional $5 million to Bates after it reaches its goal.
The Schuler grant is the largest financial aid grant the college has ever received, next to a Bates family who gave $10 million in support of financial aid in 2016. The grant also matches the biggest gift Bates has ever been given: the donation from the Bonney family who funded the new science center as well as the remodeling of other science facilities.
Weisenburger told The Student that since there is an expected increase in the number of Pell-eligible students in the nation, there will also be a “pressure, need, and desire” to enroll more of these students.
As part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Appropriations Act, 2021, there were several changes to federal financial aid policy. The modifications enable an additional 1.7 million students to qualify for maximum Pell Grant tuition-aid award and another 555,000 students to become newly eligible.
The highest Pell Grant for the 2021-2022 academic year is $6,495 and the average Pell Grant for students at Bates is $4,542. Undocumented and DACA students do not have access to the Pell Grant.
“$6,500 [which is the maximum Pell Grant nationally] is by no means enough to cover the cost [of Bates],” Weisenburger said. “It is part of the package that [Bates] can provide the student.”
For students who are Pell-eligible, their financial aid package from Bates commonly includes the Pell Grant in addition to about $13,211 in family contribution, work-study and/or loans in combination with a Bates grant, which usually averages around $55,784. The Schuler grant will now fund the cost of the Bates grant, allowing the college to cover the financial aid of more students coming from low-income families.
Students who are currently enrolled at Bates are already funded by the Schuler grant.
“I want to be really careful and not conflate financial means and socioeconomic status with either geography, race, or generational education attainment, but however, we do know through demographic research and studies that there is a lot of overlap in those identities,” Weisenburger explained.
Due to this overlap, Bates Admissions expects to be simultaneously increasing the number of students who are from outside the six New England states, are first-generation and who identify as BIPOC.
Weisenburger additionally told The Student, “We are always looking to diversify the student body given the mission, history, and commitment to access. We imagine Schuler will also help us make gains in each of those areas.”
Bates began their relationship with the Schuler Education Foundation during their involvement with the Schuler Scholars — a program for large public schools in Chicago dedicated to providing resources for first-generation students, students of color and low-income students to help them get into top-tier U.S. colleges and universities. Through the recruitment of students involved in the program, as well as the Bates graduates who have worked as college counselors at the involved schools, Bates Admissions was able to build a connection with the Schuler Education Foundation.
In 2019, Bates also participated in their Millennial Challenge, which was focused on encouraging the next generation of philanthropists to give back to their institutions.
“We understand that through these previous relationships, when Schuler started to imagine this access initiative, Bates was quickly on the list,” Weisenburger said. She also mentioned that the executive director, Jason Petenaude ‘91, is a Bates alum. Although Bates was not “cherry-picked” for this reason, Weisenburger imagined his level of familiarity with the college did not hurt.
After Bates was invited to apply for the Schuler Access Initiative, Weisenburger, along with President Spencer, Vice President for College Advancement Sarah Pearson and Vice President of Finance and Administration Geoffrey Swift, worked on the lengthy application process over the course of three to five months.
Bates is among four other colleges to have received the Schuler grant thus far, including Carleton College, Kenyon College, Union College and Tufts University. Only Bates and Carleton received the maximum grant of $50 million.
“From my seat in terms of admissions and financial aid, I am thrilled that Bates went as big and as high as we could because this isn’t an opportunity that falls in your lap,” Weisenburger said.