The President’s Scholar Program will end with the incoming class of 2023. The scholarship program was discontinued to allocate more money toward financial aid.. (Rong Chen/B&W Staff)

Lehigh students react to the discontinuation of the President’s Scholar Program

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Lehigh announced last month that it plans to discontinue the President’s Scholar Program, beginning with the class of 2023.

The scholarship was established in 1995 by Lehigh’s 11th president, Peter Likins. The program was initially proposed by Likins while he was growing Lehigh graduate programs, said Jennifer Jensen, the deputy provost for academic affairs.

The decision to discontinue the program has been under discussion for a few years. 

Jensen acknowledged the program has done good things for students at Lehigh, but there are more pressing needs for the money. Jensen cited financial aid as one of these areas that the administration plans to increase funds. Lehigh’s financial aid website states Lehigh remains committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need for all admitted and current students with a need-blind admissions approach.

“As the world becomes more diverse, as more people hear about Lehigh, as we broaden our footprint, we’re going to get more people applying and we have to meet all of their needs,” Jensen said.

The President’s Scholar Program is fairly specialized to Lehigh, especially given that students are accepted into the program solely based on their GPAs.

“I think that the Presidential Scholarship stands among a variety of things about Lehigh that allow it to stand apart from other universities in a very positive way for students who are considering coming to Lehigh,” said Matthew Hornung, ’21.

Though 40 percent of the money received from Lehigh’s GO campaign is intended to be used for financial aid, undergraduate students are still concerned about receiving enough money to support their education.

“The university realized it had come time to make that switch,” Jensen said.

In 2018, revenues of approximately $1.5 million were spent on the President’s Scholar Program, but the number varies from year to year, Jensen said.

Despite Lehigh’s $1.3 billion endowment, a gift of $5 million can only generate aid for two or three students a year, according to Jensen. There are laws regulating how much from the endowment Lehigh can use at one time. When money is donated, it is expected that the money is able to last forever, so payouts every year are limited because the endowment has to be preserved.  

“Whether a student is on financial aid or not, every student here is getting an education that costs more than they are paying,” Jensen said. “The endowment subsidizes the cost of their education.”

Some undergraduates need a fifth year to complete their undergraduate program or start a graduate program, but some eligible students deliberately stay for a fifth year because they are admitted into the program. 

Scott Henry, ’18, is a presidential scholarship recipient and is in his fifth year at Lehigh. He is using the program to finish his IBE degree. Based on his GPA at the end of junior year, he knew he would be eligible for the program.

He said when he read the original Brown and White article regarding the discontinuation of the scholarship, he was shocked.

“It’s disappointing to see because so many people get a lot out of it,” Henry said. “There wasn’t a definitive reason as to why.”

Jensen confirmed the initial announcement of the discontinuation of the program, which was a short blurb at the top of the President’s Scholar Program webpage. This announcement was not intended to be so public, as it doesn’t pertain to any current students. The undergraduate admissions department was told before the official announcement that the discontinuation was a possibility.  

But that doesn’t preclude current students from having an opinion on the matter.

“I think the discontinuation of the presidential scholarship is another item on the laundry list of poor decisions that Lehigh administration has made this year with regard to its current students and how their decisions are impacting their time at Lehigh,” Hornung said.

Hornung said when these students become alumni, he thinks the administration will have a harder time getting donations from them because of their experience as undergraduates at Lehigh.

Jensen said this change may be frustrating at first.

One difficult part about the presidential scholarship is even when students come close to the GPA threshold, regardless if they may have done a rigorous course load or had difficult family situations, they can’t be awarded the scholarship. She said she sympathizes with these students.

“My hope would be that moving forward, we do something that might have a bit more flexibility because I think there are a lot of ways for students to demonstrate their strengths,” Jensen said.

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3 Comments

  1. Embarrassed to Be Associated on

    I didn’t have any real desire to go to Lehigh but after 9/11, my dad irrationally insisted I should apply there early decision. I never liked it very much but made some friends and stayed as it least it was a somewhat prestigious school back then.

    Could someone please explain to me what the draw of this now-mediocre school would be? It’s becoming increasingly inaccessible to any major city, it has tumbled down the US News charts, the Greek life craziness (which has always been worse than at other schools of the caliber Lehigh wishes it still was), and now a great program which helped attract motivated students has been cut.

    I just want to know.

    Thanks!

    • Graduating Soon on

      There is no draw over competing schools anymore. This is why the school is raising 1 BILLION dollars to go towards capital improvements and expansions. It’s a longshot attempt to compete with the likes of the Ivy’s, Duke, NYU, etc. While this may be attractive from the outside, anyone at Lehigh will tell you this kind of expansion is not sustainable at Lehigh. I’ve never heard of a school that invests less in its current students while spending so much on a pipe dream with unexpected and unrealized payoff (path to prominence) than Lehigh does.

      • Embarrassed to Be Associated on

        I agree 100%. I am now a grad student at one of the top state systems in the country–trying to stay semi-anonymous here for now–and I will never forget what my dad said to me when I surprised him by telling him that I had not only applied but was accepted to my school: “No one has EVER lost money from a degree from the University of ______.”

        He also was super proud and excited, but isn’t that an interesting knee-jerk reaction?

        This is someone who forced me to apply to LU Early Decision right after 9/11, insisted I not transfer since (at the time!) it was prestigious, paid sticker-price for all four years, told the school to NEVER call him again looking for donations after he saw what a lackluster experience it was, and told people of nice families to not let their kids apply there UNTIL THE DAY HE DIED.

        Lehigh can barely keep pace with a place like Stevens or formerly middling state schools, let alone Ivies. NYU isn’t that impressive for undergrad outside of Tisch and Stern, but at least it’s not an embarrassment. I would be thrilled to at least see Lehigh hold it’s own in March Madness like Duke, etc. because that would at least give it some name cache.

        What a mess.

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