The President’s Scholar Program is being discontinued starting next fall after more than 20 years of providing qualifying students with a tuition-free fifth year.
With no formal announcement by the university administration, a message appeared on Lehigh’s webpage dedicated to the Presidential Scholarship.
“The President’s Scholars Program has been discontinued in order to provide additional funding for other financial aid and scholarship opportunities for Lehigh students,” the announcement said. “Students who matriculated to Lehigh through January 2019 remain eligible for the program.”
Provost Pat Farrell said because of tight budgets and limited funds, he had to prioritize what areas were most important. He believed the money would be more effective by going toward other forms of financial aid and scholarships for Lehigh students.
With the recent increase in tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year affecting students and their families, Farrell said financial aid packages for both new and existing students are also impacted. He said Lehigh is trying to attract a wide variety of students across the world and provide them with sufficient aid.
Barbara Tsaousis, a fifth-year student and Presidential Scholar using the program to pursue a second degree in health, medicine and society, said she understands that Lehigh is trying to recruit students by offering them good financial aid packages. However, she said the President’s Scholar Program gave her the opportunity to financially help her family, and it would be helpful for other families as well.
“I certainly wouldn’t have put my parents through another year of paying for Lehigh if it weren’t for that (the scholarship program),” Tsaousis said. “It definitely is helping people now, and that’s something to also consider when you remove a program that’s as unique and generous as this.”
Tsaousis said one of the benefits of the program for her is that it afforded her more time to work on applying to medical school while pursuing a second degree simultaneously.
Ava Bertone, ’18G, specifically applied to Lehigh with the intention of using the President’s Scholar Program to take graduate-level classes as an undergraduate in the College of Education dual-enrollment program. Although she has since switched to a master’s program in the English department, the President’s Scholar Program allowed her to pursue a graduate degree in a fifth year.
“I think it definitely makes a fifth year much more feasible for families who have spent a lot of money and oftentimes sacrificed a lot to put their kids through Lehigh as (undergraduate) students,” Bertone said.
To be eligible to apply for the President’s Scholar Program, students are required to have an overall GPA of 3.75 or higher after their fourth year at Lehigh. The program is only eligible for one academic year after a student’s undergraduate graduation.
Tsaousis said she was surprised when she found out the program was going to be discontinued because there weren’t many students who accepted the scholarship or who were in the program, as a lot tended to pursue graduate studies elsewhere or already had a job right after graduation.
Farrell said there won’t be any similar programs as a replacement. However, there are ideas about creating other honors programs to recognize outstanding students and their achievements, as well as continuing to challenge Lehigh’s best students.
The program wasn’t discontinued because it was unsuccessful or because students didn’t like it, Farrell said.
Part of Lehigh’s mission is to provide sufficient financial aid to students, and recent pressures for more need-based aid led to his decision to discontinue the program. He said GO: The Campaign for Lehigh, the $1 billion fundraising initiative, is intended to mainly encourage donors to give money for financial aid purposes.
“$400 million is our hoped-for target to go to the endowment to provide additional financial aid, so that’s by far the biggest piece of any piece in that overall campaign,” Farrell said.
If donors do not give enough money, Farrell said he has no solutions to finding the financial aid dollars as of now. He said Lehigh is working hard to make donors understand that the money they give is important to students who receive financial aid and to the university.
Bertone said she is concerned that it may send the wrong message that Lehigh is more focused on recruiting prospective students rather than caring about the undergraduate alumni.
“From what I’ve heard from various faculty members and friends and colleagues who have worked in Admissions and other departments on campus, it seems to be that we have an over admitting problem that there are just too many people, too many students accepted every year, and I’m really concerned that numbers are being taken into account over student well-being,” Bertone said.
Tsaousis said she thinks that Lehigh can cut back spending on other things that are not as necessary to help students pay for their education. Lehigh has been busy with building new dorms, renovating buildings and admitting more students each year.
“There are a certain amount of financial aid dollars that we just have to be able to put out on the table in order to satisfy those criteria: to get a diverse student body, to get the kind of students we want and not have to even think about their family’s economic situation, but just get good students and make sure they’re able to come financially,” Farrell said.