“FIGHTING TO KEEP HIGHER EDUCATION IN PENNSYLVANIA AFFORDABLE:
ONE PRIVATE UNIVERSITY’S PUBLIC MISSION TO PRESERVE ACCESS”
TESTIMONY OF DR. MARY HINES
PRESIDENT, CARLOW UNIVERSITY
Good morning. On behalf of Carlow University, the Commonwealth’s first women-centered university, and today one of only three Catholic, women-centered universities in the nation, I thank you for focusing the attention of policymakers and legislators on the growing challenge to keep a quality college education affordable for all of Pennsylvania’s families. And especially thank you for this opportunity to speak about one of Carlow’s essential mission-driven priorities: that of providing access to a quality and affordable education for women, “where the need is greatest.”
While thoughtful urban and rural planners rightfully advocate that society must re-invest in a state’s capital infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, water systems and public transportation, it is too easy to take for granted that the intellectual capital required to drive these institutions and investments will always be there when needed. Fortunately, the Commonwealth has the visionary leadership of the State Board of Education and the Council on Higher Education to conduct a hearing such as this to insure that we will not take for granted this priceless human capital we will need in the years ahead.
Most of us will agree that even in the best of times, providing higher educational opportunity to Pennsylvania’s future workforce – to our future civic, community, business and religious leaders – is a wise investment. At the same time I doubt that anyone will claim that these are the best of times. More likely we will agree that historically these are among the most challenging of economic and political times. Because of Carlow University’s distinctive 80-year history and mission, at a time like this we offer a unique perspective that is worthy of your consideration.
When I visit with local, state and federal policy makers and legislators, I frequently make the point that Carlow University is “a private university serving a highly public purpose.” We provide a tremendous public service which, if Carlow did not exist, the Commonwealth would need to find a way to provide. To fully appreciate this contribution, let me take you back 80 years to the founding of our university by the Sisters of Mercy. Then known as Mount Mercy College, Carlow was opened by the Sisters in September 1929, less than one month before the stock market crash that heralded the start of what we know today as the Great Depression. They were driven by what they saw as a need to provide access to a quality, higher education for the daughters of Pennsylvania’s working class families.
Those next dozen years proved to be an enormous challenge for the Sisters and their students. But with an unswerving passion for their mission, through shrewd budgeting, generous tuition discounting and scholarships, their students succeeded and the institution thrived. Thirty years ago, Carlow’s academic planners saw another need that was not being filled: adult women, with multiple and conflicting responsibilities of families, jobs and community service, needed degree-granting programs designed in formats, times and venues that would accommodate their busy schedules. In 1978 Carlow was the first to respond by offering accelerated programs on weekends and evenings.
Today, with more than 14,000 graduates – 68% of whom live in Pennsylvania and contribute to the life of the Commonwealth – Carlow University enjoys the highest Full Time Equivalent (FTE) enrollment in our history. With a respected Campus School (grades Pre-K through 8) and nearly 2,300 university students ranging from baccalaureate through doctoral programs, Carlow University is indeed a priceless academic resource for the students and the families of Pennsylvania.
I can tell you the value of private universities like Carlow to the success of our nation and our Commonwealth by giving you a few facts: for example,
- 94% of Carlow University students receive financial aid or they would not be able to go to College;
- Carlow provides more than $5.4 million in Carlow Grants alone, a significant portion of a student’s aid-package;
- 38% qualify for need-based federal Pell Grants (one of the highest percentages of needy students in Western Pennsylvania);
- approximately one-in-four are the first in their families to attend college;
- 19% are minority, mostly African-American;
- 60% are adult students expanding their opportunities for employment, career advancement or changes; many are supporting families;
But you will more likely remember these facts when I tell you the stories of just three of our students over these 80 years. Because it is in the flesh and blood, real-life stories of Carlow students and graduates that we see the value of investing in need-based financial aid.
Clarice Hensler, class of 1939, lived in Carrick and took a streetcar to Mount Mercy where she paid for her education with a scholarship from the Sisters and what she earned through the Depression working at Kauffman’s Department store. She would ultimately rise to become the Executive Secretary to the Chairman of the Board of the Gulf Oil Corporation and Chevron. Clarice readily volunteers that she would never have had the ability to go to college had it not been for that Carlow scholarship.
Karen Brady Velazquez was a single-mother who came to Carlow in the 1980s to become a nurse. With both Carlow grants and government aid, and with the benefit of strong teaching and excellent advising, Karen went far beyond the limited horizons she had envisioned for herself. Today, Karen is a respected physician who is serving the healthcare needs in our urban community. The significance of Karen’s story is that she is an African American Muslim doctor who was given her foundation for success at a Catholic, women-centered university.
Jennifer West came to Carlow as a mortuary technician uncertain of her ability to earn a baccalaureate degree. At Carlow, as an adult student, Jennifer received the financial aid and advising support she needed to excel as a double major in Biology and Chemistry. Today Jennifer is well on her way toward her new dream of earning a doctorate and a career in immunology at the National Center for Disease Control (CDC).
These three success stories are examples of many I could share with you from over the past eight decades of this private university, consistently responding to its Mercy-inspired mission to provide access and opportunity where the need is greatest. But these are stories from the past. And this hearing is about the future. So let me share a fourth story, one that is currently in progress. For me it is a perfect example of why we must redouble our efforts to keep this quality education within reach of so many women in our communities. Felicia Thomas is currently a junior Dean’s List Spanish and Business Management major from Duquesne, Pennsylvania. Most students from Felicia’s neighborhood never make it past high school. Felicia is working hard to put herself through Carlow, at the same time receiving Carlow grants and a financial aid package, that together are making her dreams possible. She tells me that she hopes to study in Costa Rica next semester and ultimately to become a Peace Corps volunteer after she graduates.
I will close my remarks as I began them. These certainly are unsettled economic times, in many ways not unlike those into which the Sisters of Mercy boldly began their ministry of higher education 80 years ago. We will aggressively continue our efforts to provide Carlow grants and private scholarships to our students “where the need is greatest.”
At the same time we have grave concerns about the ability of our students to borrow what they need to make up the difference. Our costs are moderate. We struggle to keep our tuition and fees low. And on top of that we provide discounts in the form of Carlow grants. We can not solve the problem of affordability by simply cutting costs. Programs like Carlow University operate on the margin. We simply can not cut our expenses without cutting into the very quality of our academic programs and needed services.
The aid packages we put together are generous. Our concerns are that sources of credit and aid are shrinking. The maximum Pennsylvania grant is less this year than it was two years ago. Since 2002-2003 the maximum Pell Grants have increased only $731, and there was a four-year period when the Pell Grant didn’t rise at all. We also see a disturbing trend that some employers are beginning to reduce the amount of tuition reimbursement their employees – many of our students – will receive.
If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania desires to insure future accessibility without cutting into the quality of our academic programs, we need to make need-based financial aid the foundation of our affordability program. I will proudly hold the average family income of students at Carlow University up against that of families at state-aided and state-owned colleges and universities. I believe you will then see the truth of our claim that Carlow University is indeed, in the spirit of our founders, the Sisters of Mercy, a “private university serving a highly public purpose.” As times become economically more challenging, we welcome your commitment with Carlow University to provide educational opportunity “where the need is greatest.”
-- Dr. Mary Hines, President, Carlow University