Porterfield discusses low-income students, financial aid at White House

By Sloane Markley ’14, Co-Editor-in-Chief

With Reporting by Abigail Quint ’15, Copy Editor

Dan Porterfield, president of the College, attended a Higher Education Summit at the White House last Thursday, where he outlined F&M’s commitment to recruiting and supporting students from low-income populations. Some points he highlighted include the College’s partnerships with schools, networks, communities, and K-12 programs that aim to prepare high school students for academic success, as well as its efforts to increase F&M’s resources given to need-based financial aid.

Photo courtesy of F&M News (see: http://www.fandm.edu/news/article/attack-low-income-student-myth-porterfield-tells-white-house-summit)

Photo courtesy of F&M News (see: http://www.fandm.edu/news/article/attack-low-income-student-myth-porterfield-tells-white-house-summit)

Poterfield attended a meeting with the Secretary of Education, the Secretary of Labor, the senior advisor to the president, the senior economic advisor to the president, and around 80 presidents of colleges and universities Wednesday evening.

“[This meeting was] an off-the-record chance for senior officials in the Obama Administration to hear what’s on our minds, especially around the question of expanding access and opportunity to students from the full income demographic of the country,” Porterfield explained. “So that meeting was an opportunity for presidents just to say what they were doing and what they hoped the White House might in time do or what the White House might work with Congress to do.”

Wednesday’s meeting was followed by Thursday’s public summit, a day-long event where leaders and experts shared what actions they have been taking to increase opportunities for low-income and disadvantaged students. At the invitation of President Obama and the First Lady, Porterfield and three others kicked off the summit in a panel discussion.

“I was invited to speak about F&M’s work in increasing financial aid, in recruiting—assertively—from around the country, and why our model of seminars and the College House System and lots of activities combined provide an extraordinary learning experience for students,” Porterfield said.

During the summit’s starting panel, Porterfield was joined by David Coleman, co-founder of Student Achievement Partners and current president of the College Board; Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and secretary of Homeland Security who now heads the University of California System; and Salman Khan, portfolio manager at Khan Capital Management and founder of the free education website Kahn Academy.

Porterfield saw F&M’s inclusion on a panel with these fellow individuals and their respective institutions as a significant opportunity in propelling the College’s reputation as a leader in higher education.

“It was a pretty great spotlight for F&M to be viewed as a leadership institution with other very large institutions,” he said. “What was great for us was — I hope, if I was able to help people see — a smaller school can have an enormous impact — a deeper impact, perhaps than a larger school might have — because we know our students. So that was part of the opportunity.

“I was also speaking for our cohort of highly selective, strong liberal arts colleges and medium-sized private institutions,” he continued. “So in a sense, F&M was selected to represent the top 50 liberal arts colleges, the ivy leagues — we really were in a great slot.”

At Thursday’s summit, the Posse Foundation announced that 10 colleges and universities from across the country, including F&M, have made a promise to collaboratively provide Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) scholarships for 500 students over the next five years.

F&M invited its first STEM Posse in 2011 and was the first liberal arts college to do so. This new, collaborative effort includes five institutions that will be inviting STEM Posse cohorts for the first time. These institutions include: Middlebury, Pomona, Davidson, and Smith Colleges, as well as Georgetown University.

Porterfield believes that F&M’s leadership position as the first liberal arts college to institute a partnership with the STEM Posse program, and the fact that similar institutions are following in the College’s footsteps, is an important indicator of F&M’s overall success as a top educational institution.

“That’s what great schools do; national institutions affect the national dialogue around the most important educational issues,” he explained. “And part of my hope in trying to enhance F&M’s visibility as a leading school, is to show how the F&M approach to important societal priorities is one that others should emulate.”

Part of F&M’s approach includes its commitment to financial aid, which has included a significant increase in aid over the past five years. According to Porterfield, his main message at this summit was the importance of investing in financial aid, which he believes has a variety of positive benefits for academic institutions like F&M.

“What we are showing the country is that investing in financial aid will lead to even stronger educational and academic communities,” he said. “The message I was delivering was that [other institutions] should increase financial aid too. That was the core message. If you would like to strengthen your institution, strengthen the learning of all students, and make more of an impact in society, you should prioritize need-based financial aid.”

F&M has taken a variety of steps to increase its financial aid, particularly need-based aid, and ultimately its efforts to expand access to high-achieving, low-income students. Some of F&M’s past efforts, as well as its future commitments to increase aid, are outlined in the accompanying graphic.

For Porterfield, the White House summit was not only a chance to express F&M’s goals for financial aid and expanding low-income student access but was also an opportunity to take pride in F&M, its members, and its achievements.

“The conference gave me the chance, in front of 80 college presidents and senior officials of the government, to take pride in our students, to tell people what a great education F&M provides and how well the whole student body is stepping up to the opportunities we offer,” he said. “And that, by itself, may be as valuable as any outcome of the conference because it allowed me, in front of the presidents of the top schools in the country, to say how good F&M is.

“Many schools are doing good work, but it’s not a coincidence that F&M was asked to tell its story first on NBC’s Education Nation, then at the National Journal’s Summit on Higher Education in December, and then at the White House in January,” Porterfield continued. “What the faculty, students, and administration of F&M is doing, is differentiating us from the pack because we’re proving the possible. It is possible to control college costs by increasing aid and holding tuition at smaller increases and to increase the overall quality of the school for all students at the same time. It is possible to increase funding for financial aid even in tough economic times, and doing so positions the school for long-term strength.”

Senior Sloane Markley is the Co-Editor-in-Chief. Her email is smarkley@fandm.edu.

Junior Abigail Quint is the Copy Editor. Her email is aquint@fandm.edu.

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