The Trust on the Hill

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A Senate committee called on President Carol Quillen to discuss the rising cost of college tuition—and The Davidson Trust.

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By Bill Giduz

It’s not always a good thing when a U.S. Senate committee calls for your testimony. But President Carol Quillen was delighted for the invitation to tell a panel of senators exploring “Innovations in College Affordability” about The Davidson Trust. Quillen appeared before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in Washington, D.C., on February 2, and explained Davidson College’s commitment to making a Davidson education affordable for the most talented, qualified students from all backgrounds.

Quillen was speaking on behalf of Davidson and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. The senators also heard from Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter; Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector; Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governor’s University; and Charlie Earl, executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. The committee was chaired by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and both of North Carolina’s senators—Richard Burr and Kay Hagan—are members.

Quillen asserted that Davidson is among a small group of need-blind institutions with a dual commitment to access and academic rigor. “We strive to bridge the privilege gap,” she explained. The college accomplishes that through a broad, integrated commitment to enrolling the best students, providing them with the best education, and helping them transition to lives of leadership and service after graduation.

In 2007 Davidson built on its longtime commitment to need-blind admission by becoming the first liberal arts college in the country to eliminate loans from financial aid packages. Quillen told the senate panel that The Davidson Trust is a significant financial commitment for a school of Davidson’s resources, but that it is made possible with the state’s pro-education policies, gifts from college constituents, and gifts from The Duke Endowment and the Knight Foundation. At this point, The Davidson Trust has attracted $63 million in donations, and more than one-third of annual support of the college is donor-directed to The Davidson Trust. That figure will continue to grow, she said, because the college and its “visionary” supporters are deeply committed to the values the trust supports.

“Ensuring access to an unsurpassed education is for us an ethical imperative,” she said. “It is an invitation and a promise that we extend to all talented and eager students. To these students, The Davidson Trust says: We want you here; you can afford it; and if you enroll at Davidson, we—the faculty, staff, alumni, and leadership— will do everything we can to ensure that you thrive, while you are here and after you graduate.”

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As a result of the education and experiences we offer, our graduates leave Davidson
eager and able to fulfill their aspirations in light ofwhat the world most needs from them,
and their impact for good far exceeds their numbers.

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Quillen went on to affirm that The Davidson Trust is successful. “Measured in terms of admission statistics, The Davidson Trust is working. We have maintained the highest academic standards, and students from underrepresented groups, first-generation students, and Federal Pell Grant recipients have all increased significantly.”

Nearly 44 percent of the Class of 2015 qualified for and received need-based aid, compared to about 33 percent of the Class of 2011. Over the same time period, Federal Pell Grant recipients increased from 115 to 222.

In 2007 Davidson received 743 applications from domestic students of color and 334 applications from first-generation college students. Last year those figures had increased to 1,074 and 514. Enrollment by students within those groups has also gone up accordingly.

Quillen acknowledged that Davidson and schools like it offer a unique type of educational experience that is labor intensive, comparatively expensive, and not scalable in conventional terms. But she asserted that this form of education transforms individual lives and exerts disproportionate societal impact.

“Consider what our students do,” she continued. “The most telling measure of the success of The Davidson Trust is what students and alumni do in and for their communities… They work one-on-one with faculty on a year-long research project that will help cure Alzheimer’s; they develop a leadership program for middle-school girls at an area school; they use seed funds to start a composting program or design a solar-powered cart; or they start a non-profit organization that supports schools in Nigeria or sports programs for atrisk youth or a national registry for bone marrow donors. What we do is worth it, to those who attend Davidson and to the countless others who benefit from their work.”

She concluded, “As a result of the education and experiences we offer, our graduates leave Davidson eager and able to fulfill their aspirations in light of what the world most needs from them, and their impact for good far exceeds their numbers…. Through programs like The Davidson Trust, we are changing the face of society’s leadership and striving to make equal opportunity real.”

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full text of Quillen’s Senate testimony.

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