Lawrence University President Mark Burstein appeared Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” with Kate Archer Kent to talk about challenges facing higher education, the value of a liberal arts college and the need to assist students in navigating the costs of college.
Below are excerpts from what President Burstein had to say on the live show. To listen to the interview, click here.
On the type of connection a private institution such as Lawrence can have with the surrounding community:
“One of the things that really drew me to Lawrence and the Fox Cities was what I would consider a symbiotic relationship between the college and Appleton and the Fox Cities. Appleton is actually named for Amos Lawrence’s wife, her maiden name. And that relationship, that connection is so alive and well today. We collaborate on so many different things, Appleton and Lawrence, and we really both together create a more vibrant place for all of us to live.”
On the draw to a private liberal arts college?
“We do provide a different type of education. The faculty-student ratio at Lawrence is 8 to 1, which allows us to provide a more individualized, engaged learning experience for every student on campus. And that can be summer research opportunities in laboratories or it could be individualized study.”
On helping students navigate costs of college?
“At Lawrence, this has been a real focus for us. … Our stated price is about $57,000 a year. But 98 percent of our students get aid. And that aid on average is half the cost. So, it halves the costs every year.
“And we’re really trying to raise even more money to increase that grant aid to students and families. Right now, our average debt that a student graduates with is $31,000. That has decreased over the past six years. And we’re trying to get it down to about $25,000. So, for Lawrence, it is a sustainable proposition. We’re really trying to raise more money to support every student and family to ensure they can afford a Lawrence education.
“On the other hand, not every private institution has the kind of resources Lawrence has. We have an endowment that’s over $300 million. We have an extraordinarily generous community that surrounds us. It’s really something that students and families have to think about. What is the debt you would have to take out for a four-year college education, and is that sustainable for you?”
On how the Full Speed to Full Need campaign came about at Lawrence?
“Full need means the institution, the college or university, has enough resources to support every family to the level that federal methodology says that we should. What surprised me … is that there are only 70 full-need institutions in the country. And there are over 3,000 institutions that teach undergraduates.
“One student came in … said he was working 38 hours a week, he already took out $20,000 in debt, he was a first-term sophomore and he needed to take out more to complete that year. … His parents were divorced, his dad had just been evicted from his home for not paying his rent, his mom worked in a bookstore, and he loved it at Lawrence and wanted to stay there. And I started by saying, maybe you should think about transferring to your local state institution, where maybe the finances would be different for you. He said, ‘Mark, you didn’t hear one part of what I just said, which is I love it here.’ …
“So that started me on this odyssey of what it means to be full need. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Lawrence community we’ve now raised $79 million in scholarship aid, which goes into the endowment and supports students and families absolutely every year, including that student, who did graduate from Lawrence with more aid.”
On the battle to keep enrollment numbers up?
“In general, we are seeing declining enrollment in colleges across the board, both in public and private institutions. We see that in the UW System as well. That’s a demographic change, which is we have fewer high school seniors graduating in the United States. …
“Lawrence is very fortunate in that we have a student body of 1,500, and strong demand for the education we offer. About 25 percent of our students come from the state of Wisconsin, but 75 percent come from elsewhere. We have 47 states represented on campus and actually over 70 countries around the globe. That kind of demand is essential for both the future of Lawrence but also for the learning experience; interacting with this diverse population is part of the learning we offer.”