A policy announced during the weekend, promising no-loan financial-aid packages for families earning up to $125,000 a year, is a great step forward. Colgate’s ambition to bring that “no loan” policy to families earning up to $150,000 a year is even better. But my biggest hope is that the college will keep on trying to increase its enrollment of the financially neediest students, too.
It’s improved on that front of late but still falls short compared with several of its peers. While I missed a few of those face-to-face alumni classes, I did sign up for an online one. Each year Colgate offers a version of its Living Writers course that is free and open to all.
Since I have promised myself to read more books, this seemed like a good fit. Ten books in 10 weeks could be tough, but as an alum, I appreciate that my college is creating this opportunity for me to engage intellectually with prominent writers, along with a Colgate professor and other students of all ages. It also strikes me as a smart way to build alumni affinity based on the essence of the college’s mission: education.
My college still struggles with other forms of diversity. In 1979, Colgate was about 90 percent white. Today that figure is about 64 percent.
Economically, it’s become more divided by income (see above, re. Cost of tuition, room, and board). Even though the amount it awards annually in financial aid has increased eightfold (after adjusting for inflation) since 1979, Colgate has become increasingly unaffordable for middle-class families.
Many other colleges face a version of this challenge. One last thought: On Saturday night, my class held a dinner under a tent. I was the emcee, which meant I got to make a few lame jokes about Operation Varsity Blues, thank the folks who organized the fund raising, and tee up the evening’s entertainment.
(Talk about the value of a liberal-arts education: It was two songs, one touching, the other hilarious, from a beloved classmate, Ivy Austin, who majored in biology, starred on Broadway, and is now adding in her “seventh career” as family counselor. ) On our campus, in the world, and in our lives, so much had changed over 40 years. Yet that connection with professors whose knowledge and passion had inspired us as we entered adulthood still endured.
Now I can barely wait for my 45th. I’d seen pictures and video of Colgate’s new career-services building, which opened last fall, but this was my first chance to get inside.
As my colleague Scott Carlson has described in his “ The Future of Work” report, Colgate is known for its embrace of alumni to promote career networking. This new building takes those efforts farther — a lot farther. Unlike the old building, where I once went to comb through looseleaf binders to learn about internships, this one sits in a prominent spot on the quad.
It features five private interview rooms, complete with videoconferencing equipment so students can talk with recruiters who can’t make it campus. Ditto for the bigger “seminar” room. The building accommodates the current staff of about 16 people, with enough additional space for the juniors and seniors who serve as “peer career advisers.
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I also had the pleasure of introducing two guests: Jane Pinchin and her English-department colleague Margaret Maurer, two favorites from our era. My classmates stood and cheered as I said their names, and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that rush of joy. In my tour of the new Colgate building, I was told that the biggest room, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the campus, is now considered one of the most desirable classrooms on campus.
I wondered whether that was a deliberate choice, to get undergraduates used to coming into the building earlier in their college careers. Already some 90 percent of Colgate students are somehow tied into the career center. It’s the product of what Nolan Snyder, assistant director of employer relations-operations, described as “a lot of outreach,” including formal meetings with athletics teams and with other student organizations. Are other colleges doing that? It seems smart to me — spiffy new building not required.
There was plenty more that resonated with me. When I started at Colgate, it was just four years into co-education and still had a decidedly male culture. Well, honestly, sexist would be more accurate.
Happily, that’s changed, too. During reunion, the female a cappella group, the Swinging Gates, which formed just before I started college celebrated its 45th anniversary. One of the weekend’s official gatherings closed out with those female voices leading us in the alma mater (I still know most of the words) in a heartening moment.
The year I graduated, Colgate was about 60-40 male-female. Today, as with the rest of higher education, the women outnumber the men.