The Importance of Endowed Scholarships
This feature story appeared in the 2020 Winter Arcadia magazine supplement, “Why We Give: The Impact of Philanthropy,” and showcases the importance of endowed scholarships on student success.
Kevin G. Shollenberger ’88 (left) discovered his passion for Psychobiology and research at Arcadia University through faculty mentors who took a personal interest in his successes both inside and outside the classroom. He stresses how these experiences—staples of an Arcadia education—propelled his social mobility and launched his career in higher education.
Shollenberger’s educational experience, though, was dependent on one crucial form of support. “This education would not have been possible without the financial aid that was awarded to me,” says the vice provost for student health and well-being at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Now, Shollenberger is paying it forward in a way that will help to strengthen his legacy and also shape Arcadia’s future. The recently elected Trustee for the University established the Kevin G. Shollenberger ’88 Endowed Scholarship for a student with demonstrated financial need in January 2020.
As a student, Shollenberger did not appreciate that his aid was supported by alumni donations. “Once I understood this,” he says, “I viewed it as my obligation to give back to the institution that afforded me many incredible opportunities, so others could also benefit from all that Arcadia has to offer.
Shollenberger joins a growing list of endowed scholarship donors to Arcadia. In 1970, Walter S. Cornell, the father of Anne Cornell Swalm ’55, established the Mable Kuhn Cornell Endowed Scholarship as part of a bequest in honor of his wife. Since that first one, the number of endowed scholarships had grown slowly until 2019, when the first of a dozen new scholarships were generated in the last fiscal year. Four more are in the works. At this writing, Arcadia has a total of 86 funds earmarked for student financial aid.
“It is what I call Impact Philanthropy, a radically generous mindset, where giving is transformative, focuses on accomplishing a goal, and helps the University advance,” says Brigette A. Bryant, vice president for Development and Alumni Engagement.
Scholarships are a time-honored tradition at colleges and universities. The fund that a donor establishes to exist in perpetuity for an expressed purpose—student financial aid—can make transformational change possible for both students and the university. Endowed scholarships also can build an institution’s competitive strength in recruitment while supporting student retention efforts, fortifying a university’s student body.
Endowed scholarships also bolster an endowment and are points of pride for the donor, for the recipient, and for the University. In many ways, they embody the legacy of the person honored or memorialized through the named scholarship.
At Arcadia, endowed scholarships have the potential to meet an especially crucial need. About one-third of the University’s students are the first in their families to attend college. While about one-third of the student body qualifies for PELL grants for lower-to-no-income families, many middle-income families rely heavily on scholarships. Overall, 99 percent of Arcadia students receive financial aid, the vast majority in the form of a grant or scholarship that helps avoid the debt burden commonly felt after graduation.
Most of that aid is provided through the University’s budget—making the need to build Arcadia’s endowed scholarship portfolio all the more crucial. In 2019, Arcadia awarded about $49.1 million in financial aid from its budget. Of that amount, privately funded endowed scholarships made up about $365,000 in annual scholarship distributions. A benchmark goal is to contribute to at least 10 percent of a university’s financial aid expenditure. In other words, Arcadia would be better positioned with closer to $5 million in annual distributed financial aid from private sources. Bryant estimates that translates to roughly 2,500 new endowed scholarships, each at the minimum gift threshold of $50,000. A goal of about 330—nearly four times the current number—is more possible to achieve, likely over several years. With President Ajay Nair and his leadership team in place, fundraising outcomes are starting to trend upward. The University last year established the strategic and student-centered Arcadia Financial Aid Initiative (AFAI), which allows donors to double the impact of their giving. To provide the greatest incentive for donors, AFAI provides a 1:1 match for gifts of $50,000 or more when those gifts are designated to establish a new endowed scholarship or supplement an existing one and are directed for students with demonstrated financial need.
“Keeping students at the center of all that we do is our number-one priority,” President Nair says. “We cannot achieve the ambitious goals we have set as a University, and our students cannot achieve the ambitious goals they set, without a robust and competitive scholarship portfolio. Scholarships are a great equalizer—they help students realize their potential and help Arcadia on its path to be a university for the future.”
Chair of the Board of Trustees Alison Aaron Madsen ’85, Esq., with her husband, Howard, took advantage of the AFAI, in part because of the great matching incentive it provided. “Also,” she continues, “the pandemic has presented many challenges to our success, and the Arcadia community must have the resources to respond in a manner that adds to our value. Like many nonprofits, when traditional revenue recedes, it is the loyal support of alumni donors that can lift us up the most.”
Madsen says she hopes the Dan and Gerri Aaron Endowed Scholarship Fund, named in honor of her late parents, changes lives. She looks forward to meeting the first recipient as the fund matures and starts to generate income, a portion of which will support an award. Madsen says she considers the gift an opportunity to “serve the community that served me in a time of searching, discovery, and intellectual growth.”
Fiscal year 2020 saw major gifts and scholarships rise to $1.73 million—more than six times the previous year’s total; nearly half of that total is scholarships. Since AFAI’s inception, several, including alumni and former trustees, have risen to the challenge, making an early impact of nearly $1 million on the University’s endowment (see sidebar).
AFAI participant Christy Ann Pierce ’71 notes how her time at Beaver provided her what she needed to be a strong teacher for more than three decades. She echoes several other Arcadia donors as being honored to help students achieve their dreams. “We were students who took many varied opportunities to learn about our professional choices and to experience the real world at the same time,” says Pierce. “Now, I have the chance to help someone else experience their dreams.”
“I see a great deal of unrealized generosity in our community,” Bryant says. “I see a community that really loves its experience and hopes to perpetuate it for today’s students. I see a community that really admires and loves our students.”
A collective willingness to give
These are unusual times, as a pandemic takes its toll on health, personal finances, and the nation’s economic recovery. Difficult times can sway prospective donors to either “lean back and withhold support or lean in and give to make a difference,” Bryant says.
“People don’t have to ever become donors,” she continues. “It is a personal choice to give. What is so beautiful about the donors who do choose to make gifts to Arcadia is the genesis of their charitable gifts in selflessness and altruism. These gifts emanate from the depths of their hearts, ideally because they really want to make a difference. In that way, I get to see the best in people every day.”
Kimberly Sterner-Stein ’88 and her husband, VanEric, direct their philanthropic focus on student retention efforts. “Arcadia has had such a significant impact on my life,”
she says. “I’m grateful for the University’s commitment to students who need extra and/or unexpected additional financial support to stay. This is a very important issue for my husband and for me.” The couple made a new commitment to an existing endowed scholarship to help grow the size of their fund for maximum effectiveness for students.
Shollenberger describes this year as “extremely difficult … as we respond to a global pandemic and as a country and society continue to witness and experience racial violence. Many families, more than ever, have been affected by the economic downturn with soaring unemployment. Many are questioning if they can afford higher education. I worry about the lasting effects this may have on our young people and ultimately our nation. This is why I think it is more important than ever, if you are in a position to give, that you support the education of our youth.”
At Arcadia, Bryant seeks alumni who have a shared vision for the University’s success as well as a feeling of shared responsibility for Arcadia’s outcomes.
“Donors are special people,” she says. “But they need to be found. And when a gift is made, I recognize it as one of life’s most glorious moments. Through their giving, a donor is really saying, ‘I don’t know who will eventually receive this support—but that future student matters so much to me that I’m willing to make provisions for people
I may never meet, but that I know I want to help, and I want to provide this support forever.’ That’s the power. It really creates a strong bond between the donor, the students, and the University.”
Susan Smyth Shenker ’69, an English major at Beaver College, has consistently given to Arcadia for more than 25 years, earning her place in the University’s LGK Society, named for Presidents Bette Landman, Edward D. Gates, and Raymond Kistler. She also serves as co-chair of the Jones Poundstone Society (JPS), which recognizes donors who make an annual gift of $1,000 or more to Arcadia’s annual fund, The Fund for Arcadia. As a scholarship recipient herself, Shenker says she always wanted to do even more by creating an endowed scholarship that would provide support to Arcadia students in perpetuity.
“In my day they called this ‘giving back,’” she says. “Today, it’s called ‘paying it forward.’ Either way, I thought it would require more money than I could ever afford.” AFAI, however, solved her dilemma. The dollar-for-dollar match will help her build principal, and she can spread out fulfillment of her commitment over five years.
“It’s truly a lasting legacy,” she says. “I detest the fact that so many students graduate from college today with substantial debt. By increasing the number of scholarships, we can help so many students graduate with less debt. Hopefully they too will ‘pay it forward’ and endow scholarships of their own.”
Susan C. Saxer ’71, retired president of SCS Solutions and former senior vice president of Mellon Bank Corporation, also has a long history of giving to Arcadia and leveraging donations through matching corporate gifts. Soon after graduating with a degree that concentrated in Mathematics, Economics, and Honors Colloquia, she began donating to her alma mater, even though money was tight and she “stretched every dollar to pay rent, buy food, and put gas in my beat-up car.” As her career eventually took off in banking, economics, and finance, Saxer’s donations increased. Several years ago, she established the Susan C. Saxer Scholarship for Mathematics,
Economics, and Honors.
“Arcadia’s viability to survive and thrive is integrally linked to our collective willingness and ability to give generously through our annual gifts, endowed scholarship funds, and bequests,” she says. “Previous generations have answered this call. Now, it is our time to do so, too.”
Saxer has met with students awarded her scholarship at Arcadia’s Celebration of Scholarship dinner that recognizes donors and recipients. “I was impressed,” she says. “They were gifted in their course concentrations, expressive and interesting individuals, and very grateful for their total experience at Arcadia. Each made a commitment to me to pay it forward later in their lives when they are able to do so. I am excited for the promising and abundant futures ahead for each of them. And, I am sure that future students will be grateful for the generosity that these recipients will fulfill.”
Luke Thatcher ’22, a Mathematics major with minors in Economics and History, was the most recent Saxer Scholar to meet Saxer. “She is an amazingly intelligent mathematician and businesswoman, and it was an honor to meet someone so successful and kind,” says the Bloomsburg, Pa., native who wants to be a statistician. “[Susan] shared some career advice while also giving me insights on how she kept advancing in her career. I was grateful for the chance to thank her in person for the opportunity she has given me.”
For Thatcher, the scholarship was the factor that sealed his decision to attend Arcadia. Because of it, the financial burden on his family to pay for college was greatly reduced, he says. The scholarship offer also made clear to him that the University really wanted him as a student.
“It made a huge impact that made me commit almost instantly,” Thatcher says, “and I’m so fortunate that I chose Arcadia because I absolutely love the community I have joined.” The award has motivated Thatcher to do his best in his classes. While he may not be able to start a scholarship of his own quite yet, he says he makes a point of giving back to Arcadia through the Honors Program.
“I think scholarships are important because they give students a chance,” Thatcher says. “Many great sports stories are about underdogs who were given a chance to prove themselves, and I believe that’s what scholarships can do for university students across the world.”
Heroes for someone’s future story
Madeline “Maddy” Johnson Stein ’68, who established an endowed scholarship with husband Isaac in 2011, says she enjoys reading about the world-changing accomplishments of alumni. “I love that ‘40 Under 40’ [Arcadia Magazine] issue,” she says. “It makes me feel so proud. Now, I understand what the graduates are doing and how they are impacting the world. That’s what motivates me to give. These are real people doing real things.”
Stein’s new commitment through AFAI has bolstered her existing fund’s principal, thereby generating more financial aid support for students. The gift speaks to President Nair’s strong leadership during tough times, she says, and to Arcadia’s resilience. “My giving is a vote of confidence,” she says, “in the institution, the strength of our current leadership, and in our current and future students.”
Joan Nadler Brantz ’65 was a non-traditional student, married to her husband George and busy raising two children, when she enrolled at Beaver College. Joan wanted to realize her dream of being the first in her family to go to college and earn an undergraduate degree. In 1965 she did just that. Joan received her degree in Sociology from Beaver and pursued a career in social work. She went on to have a successful 18-year career representing clients before the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Last year on UKnighted Tuesday, Joan made a $55,000 gift to support The Fund for Arcadia and to establish the Joan N. Brantz ’65 and George M. Brantz Endowed Scholarship. This scholarship will pave the way for future generations of students to make Arcadia their undergraduate home. “Because Beaver gave me the opportunity to live my dream,” Joan notes, “I want to make the same thing possible for students today.”
This year, Joan has used Zoom to participate in online events and stay connected with the University, noting how impressed she has been with the students and faculty who have served as moderators and facilitators of these virtual events. “Our students make me feel proud and optimistic about the future,” Joan says. “They will have their roles to play in making this a better world, and I hope that what I have contributed can help them to live their dreams.”