Lehigh’s Path to Prominence aims to reshape the student experience. With a multitude of changes to the student body, curriculum and physical campus, the Lehigh experience of future students will look much different from that of alumni.
On top of a financial aid initiative that meets 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need, the expansion plan includes building a college of health, hiring 100 new faculty members, increasing the undergraduate and graduate student population by 20 percent, and building new dormitories to accommodate the larger student population.
Although the plan aims to create a more “dynamic, impactful university,” alumni have mixed opinions about the changes.
Kristen Mejia, ’17, was involved with critiquing the Path to Prominence when she was a member of the Council of Student Presidents.
Mejia said she wants Lehigh to have a higher percentage of faculty, staff and administrators of color because she believes more faculty of color will ultimately lead to a higher retention rate of students of color.
“I was heavily involved with Lehigh’s community of color and know all too well of the detrimental impacts that not having enough faculty, staff and administrators of color, and subsequent support for them, has had on our campus,” Mejia said. “I personally would have loved if I could have seen more black and brown folks in my classes, specifically engineering, joining clubs, and overall staying and succeeding at Lehigh.”
Mejia said she is afraid some students will not receive the financial aid they need because, with the Path to Prominence, the university is focused on increasing population size, and might not have enough funding to support students, faculty, staff and administrators.
The Path to Prominence is not just expanding the size of the student body, but also Lehigh’s reach into the South Bethlehem community. Mejia said the gentrification of the South Side is a real problem, and with an increase in students coming to Lehigh’s campus, there might be an increase in South Bethlehem residents who cannot afford to pay their rent.
“We will be pushing out homeowners and families into other towns and areas,” Mejia said, “breaking up established communities, taking children away from their schools and adding an increased amount of stress, especially a financial one, on these people who may not even be able to afford living in South Bethlehem now, let alone when all construction is completed and a few years have passed.”
Dabney Brice, ’18, graduated in January and believes the Path to Prominence plan is a step in the right direction but could have a better focus.
“I kind of wish that Lehigh would put the same effort they’re putting into this project into helping make first generation, low-income and minority students feel prepared and comfortable at Lehigh,” Brice said.
In 2017, Lehigh hired Donald Outing, the first vice president for equity and community, and connected with the POSSE Foundation, a program that helps locate underrepresented, high-achieving students from the San Fransisco Bay Area who otherwise might not have applied to Lehigh.
Like Mejia, Brice hopes the increase in undergraduate students and faculty members will promote more diversity on Lehigh’s campus.
Bruke Mammo, ’17, said he hopes the college of health will bring specified health programs to Lehigh’s curriculum and wishes the college would have existed during his time as an undergraduate student.
Mammo said he hopes the Path to Prominence creates positive interactions and a mutually beneficial relationship with South Bethlehem as the campus expands into the community and more students become a part of it.
“If more students equate to more diversity among all walks of life, then I’m all for it,” Mammo said.