President Responds to NY Times Article, "Endowments Widen Higher Education Gap" (02.04.08)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

In a letter to the editor, President Sharon Herzberger makes the case that size of endowment does not necessarily equate quality education.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, (February 4, 2008; Endowments Widen a Higher Education Gap by Karen W. Arenson) elite universities have amassed wealthy endowments over the past decade exacerbating the divide between a small group of very wealthy universities and all others. The larger endowments range from $15.8 billion to $34.9 billion, but fewer than 400 of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities in the United States had even $100 million in endowments in the fiscal year that ended in June. Most had less than $10 million.

Wealthier colleges, the article continues, tap into their endowment to provide substantial financial aid to families earning $180,000 or more. They can also lure top professors with higher salaries and construct new and better facilities. In order to compete, less wealthy colleges, and even state universities, are left trying to build a larger endowment of their own.

In a letter published in the New York Times on February 10, 2008, Whittier College President Sharon Herzberger shared her view on this pressing issue.

Re: "Soaring Endowments Widen a Higher Education Gap" (news article, Feb. 4)

There is a widening gap between the wealthy colleges and universities and those with lesser endowments. Yet the size of an endowment does not translate into the quality of the education provided.

The public needs to be reminded that, in the end, a high-quality education is about meaningful faculty-student interaction, student mentorship and individual feedback. It is the relationship between faculty and student that most predicts student achievement and growth in college.

With that said, however, why in the world would anyone make donations to schools that have endowments in the billions when they can make a huge difference at a school that struggles to provide students with such life-changing opportunities?

Sharon Herzberger
President, Whittier College

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