Why Access Matters: Introduction

By Julia Van Develder

A Vassar education provides access in many forms and to many things: dedicated and talented faculty members, students, and alums; outstanding facilities and resources; and a broader community rich with diversity and opportunities. But first, students need to get here. Many in the Vassar community applauded President Catharine "Cappy" Hill when she announced in her inaugural year that expanding access to a Vassar education would become one of the highest priorities of her administration. After all, she has said, "Vassar's very founding was based on the idea of making a quality education available to promising students — specifically, young women — to whom, by and large, it previously had been denied."

A noted economist, Hill had spent years studying the issues of affordability and access in higher education. She spoke about the results of her research during her inauguration speech. “Talented high school students from poor families are significantly less likely to go onto college  than similarly talented students from wealthier families,” she said, adding that this greatly “affects their ability to realize their full potential and their dreams for themselves and their families.”

The reinstatement of need-blind admissions is just one of the actions that Vassar has taken to address these disparities. The Admissions Office has broadened its outreach efforts, significantly expanding awareness of the college among underrepresented groups. The office is working with Vassar’s Committee on Inclusion and Excellence, which comprises 22 students, faculty, and administrators, to consider ways to bring a wider range of “students of promise” to Vassar. One of the committee’s first official policy recommendations, in fall 2008, was the Poughkeepsie High School (PHS) scholarship, which replaces loans with scholarships for any Poughkeepsie High student admitted to Vassar who has spent the final two years of his or her high school career at PHS.

These efforts and others have resulted in the most diverse freshman class in the history of the college. But why is that important? How does broader diversity in the student body make for a richer teaching and learning experience? In this issue, we will examine these questions and also ask, “What makes a Vassar education worth seeking?” It’s not just the remarkable rate at which Vassar graduates are accepted into advanced degree programs. It’s the unexpected treasures in Vassar’s Special Collections that bring history to life in students’ hands; the faculty projects that offer students exposure to and the ability to participate in cutting-edge, real-world research and social projects; the Poughkeepsie community, which provides a living laboratory for experiential learning; and, of course, the support of a 36,000-strong body of alumnae/i eager to extend a helping hand to fellow Vassarites.

Follow VC's timeline as we take a look back at access.

Have comments about this article? Email vq@vassar.edu