Welcome to another academic year’s worth of President’s Perspectives. The Class of 2016 arrived last week, and unlike last year, when Hurricane Irene took out our power for 16 hours, all went smoothly. The arrival of our new class under blue skies is depicted here on the Ursinus web site.
The Class of 2016 is an engaged and passionate group: their admissions applications list community service more often than any other pre-college activity. I think they have come to the right place.
Thirty-six percent of the first-years ranked in the top tenth of their high school graduating classes, and their average reported SAT was 1200. The class is 52 percent male (compared to a national average of 43 percent). Twenty-three percent are students of color; 26 percent are first-generation college students; and 22 percent are Pell-grant eligible. We are successfully maintaining our commitment to admitting students of quality capable of meeting Ursinus standards for academic rigor while striving for multicultural and socio-economic diversity.
As I addressed the parents of the incoming class, I wondered, as they no doubt did, what are our hopes for these students?
The Class of 2016 will be the first class to matriculate under the strategic plan for the College. It will differentiate the Class of 2016, and ultimately it will differentiate Ursinus. The plan is integral to our long-term flourishing because it reaffirms our basic mission and strengths while seeking ways in which we can better serve our students.
We rightly aspire to change lives by virtue of being a small, residential community. The intellectual maturation and personal development of students is realized through individualized attention and close relationships between them and faculty and staff.
In colleges that prize liberal education, professors are responsible not only for the transmission of knowledge, but also the encouragement of character. Moreover, liberal learning at Ursinus occurs not only in the classroom but in the entire residential and co-curricular experience. Thus professors here are both invested in learning and implicated in the lives of their students. And R.A.’s, coaches, dining hall checkers, work-study supervisors, campus safety officers, deans, and the President, can say or do a kindness that encourages students to persevere both academically and in their growth to maturity. Retention is a mark of our caring community, and it is a major goal in our strategic plan.
We have declared through our core curriculum, embodied in the Common Intellectual Experience and the Independent Learning Experience, a faculty consensus on what graduates of Ursinus ought be able to know and do. Such curricular declarations are rare in higher education, where general education is more often a series of distribution requirements or sometimes no requirements at all. Given the increasing emphasis on career preparation, I anticipate many institutions will further diminish general education requirements and thus adulterate the liberal education that is essential to the broad-based mastery and appreciation of lifelong learning. Ursinus stands in opposition to this trend.
At the same time, we acknowledge that the liberal arts college can no longer be an ivory tower, sheltering students from the needs and expectations of the world. At Ursinus, we seek to balance reflection with action, encouraging our students to apply what they have learned through internships, research, and community service. We aim to better assist our students in anticipating the next chapter of their lives, whether that be advanced study or employment, and to help them weave the narratives of their own best selves, so that they are less subject to circumstance and more able to choose their destinies.
We are creating more networking opportunities for our students. Our Advancement and Career Services offices are in contact with an impressive group of Philadelphia-area alumni to discuss internship possibilities. This past year, Ursinus became a member of PA Bio, a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, educational institutions, investment firms, and service industries that support the life sciences in the state.
Building on the Common Intellectual Experience, beginning this fall students will be able to explore the intersection of science, ethics, and public policy through the new interdisciplinary Center for Science and Common Good. The Center is the fruit of a successful $800,000 grant proposal to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Our hope is that the Class of 2016 will understand that an Ursinus education is much more than distribution requirements. At its heart is teaching our students to exercise judgment as citizens and contributors to society. We want to graduate young men and women not only to make a living but to make lives of purpose.
With this firm commitment in mind, I’m pleased to inform you of the continued inclusion of Ursinus in the newly revised edition of Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Hilary Masell Oswald was commissioned to create an updated profile of distinctive colleges based on the late Loren Pope’s classic book. Ursinus is honored to be recognized for its work in transformative education.