Vassar Today

President's Page: Change, Continuity, and the Class of '13

By Catharine Hill

As a scholar of economics, I’ve always had a keen appreciation for numbers and the stories they can tell. With the new academic year just under way, the statistics about our newest students, the Class of 2013, are telling indeed. They speak simultaneously of our college’s core values, which remain unchanging, and also of how the face of Vassar, like the face of America itself, is changing, becoming ever more diverse—a new development that, paradoxically, underscores why Matthew Vassar’s magnificent enterprise was created in the first place. To begin with, it’s worth noting that in a year of enormous uncertainty on so many levels, Vassar received 7,577 applications for this year’s freshman class—yet another all-time record that, somewhat unexpectedly, reflects an increase of three percent over the previous year. As a result, our acceptance rate of 24.7 percent is another all-time record.

The academic credentials of these newest Vassar students are impressive. Their mean SAT scores (critical reading and math combined) are 1380, with a mean of 694 on the writing section, no small matter when a curriculum remains as writing-oriented as ours. The mean high school grade point average of the Class of 2013 is A-. Of those with class rank, 67 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, while 90 percent were in the top 20 percent, and 95 percent were in the top quarter. In short, these students are as academically gifted as any class we’ve ever admitted.

Vassar’s newest class is also its most diverse by any number of measures. Members of the Class of 2013 come from 46 states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) and 34 foreign countries, ranging from the Bahamas to Bahrain, from Poland to Peru, from Tanzania to Turkey.

Surely one of the most striking statistics of all is that fully one-third of the members of the Class of 2013 are students of color. This not only represents a sizable increase from the Class of 2012 (for whom the comparable figure was 28.1 percent), it is by far the highest combined percentage of students of color ever in a Vassar class.

When I mentioned this development to the classes who assembled in the Chapel at Reunion this year, their enthusiastic response told me that alumnae/i from earlier classes understand and appreciate the significance of this news, of what the changing face of the Vassar student means to our college. It means we are staying true to our founder’s principles. He saw that with very few exceptions a first-rate college education was out of reach for half the population of America in his day, and he resolved to do something about it. As we near a century and half of Matthew Vassar’s grand and successful experiment, we see the demographics of our country and, even more, of its college-age population shifting. That our student body should reflect the diversity of our nation and our world is something our students themselves want — and living and learning with classmates from a wide variety of backgrounds enriches the entire educational experience for all of our students, and our faculty, too.

In the midst of all these changes, there is also much continuity. For example, seven percent of the students in our newest class are “legacies,” whose parents and/or grandparents attended Vassar. And at Reunion, it was clear to me that alumnae and alumni who had attended what would seem to be, in retrospect, a very different Vassar had, in fact, a wonderful and indefinable something — something very basic — in common with today’s students. This could be seen plainly in innumerable small interactions between the alumnae/i and our students working at Reunion.

The theme of continuity and change continues with one final, very important figure: the percentage of the Class of 2013 receiving at least some measure of financial aid from the college is 60 percent. That represents another record, resulting in large part from the state of the economy. An increase in financial aid can of course be daunting at a time of economic uncertainty, though it is also to be expected. Keep in mind, however, that it was Matthew Vassar himself who said no student of promise should be denied a Vassar education due to lack of means. The Class of 2013, which arrives on campus with an already impressive record of achievement and a wonderful breadth of diversity, is the most recent evidence of our college’s continuing commitment to that venerable principle.

Catharine B. Hill
Catharine B. Hill

Catharine Hill, President