With tuition alone running $45,000 per year, an education at Skidmore College can hardly be called affordable.
But for decades now, the college has taken steps to ensure its student body is diverse and that its graduates aren't facing crippling debt after receiving their degrees. Skidmore 's Opportunity Program, for instance, takes disadvantaged students with strong academic and personal potential and puts them through a rigorous pre-freshman experience and a comprehensive advising program to ensure they graduate.
And the results have been phenomenal, according to school officials. On average, Skidmore students receiving financial aid graduate with less debt than their counterparts attending public and private schools elsewhere in the state.
Students in the program, which was founded in 1969, typically have higher grade-point averages than their counterparts and a graduation rate of roughly 88 percent, several points better than Skidmore 's overall graduation rate. Skidmore President Phil Glotzbach sees the model employed at his campus as one that might take root at other colleges, as students increasingly struggle to manage the cost of tuition and future debt.
"For us, it's trying to find ways that once our students are here, they all have equal access to everything we provide," he said.
Glotzbach is among a group of about 140 college presidents from across the nation attending a meeting at the White House today aimed at exploring ways to increase opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged students by examining the approaches that are most successful. The summit called by President Barack Obama will feature appearances by first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among other senior administration officials.
"I've got a pen and I've got a phone, and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible and making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating," Obama said in remarks before a cabinet meeting Tuesday.
"And I've got a phone that allows me to convene Americans from every walk of life -- nonprofits, businesses, the private sector, universities -- to try to bring more and more Americans together around what I think is a unifying theme: making sure that this is a country where if you work hard, you can make it."
Roughly 44 percent of Skidmore students receive financial assistance. The nationally regarded Opportunity Program enrolls 40 low-income students per class and provides highly personalized academic, financial, and counseling services.
In recent years, Glotzbach said, the college has continued to mold its policies so low-income students aren't constrained in their academic experience. For instance, Skidmore now allows financial aid awarded to low-income students to be used to fund study abroad.
The college also established a new category of grants aimed at helping students link academic interests with post-graduate goals. The SEE-Beyond awards provide $4,000 to 20 low-income students so they can continue on their academic path over the summer without feeling obligated to take on summer jobs.
Skidmore 's financial aid budget now exceeds $39 million annually and provides support to more than 1,000 students. Glotzbach said this has allowed the campus to increase the percentage of students eligible for the federal Pell grant program.