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.