By Brenda Gillen
This story first appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Bulletin.
Scholarships for Today and Tomorrow
Colorado College is an increasingly attractive choice for prospective students. The 586 students who comprise the Class of 2019 were selected from a record-breaking applicant pool of 8,064 students. Among the accepted students, an unprecedented 15 percent were eligible for the Federal Pell Grant Program, which provides need-based grants to low-income students. Yet as attractive as a CC education is, the college is unable to provide for all students with need; some highly qualified students must be turned away. For that reason, CC aims to raise $90 million for scholarships and financial aid.
“CC definitely stood apart,” says Hamiyyet Bilgi ’18. “I felt more of a sense of belonging from when I first came to visit campus. Originally when I was looking at schools, coming from a single-parent household, I was concerned about the price tag more than anything,” Bilgi says. A first-generation college student, Bilgi first heard of Colorado College during a college preparation fair for QuestBridge students at Yale University.
QuestBridge is a platform connecting the nation’s brightest, under-served youth and leading institutions of higher education. She hadn’t planned to leave the East Coast, but after a campus visit, CC was at the top of the list of 18 colleges to which she applied.
A variety of scholarships helped her attend CC, including the Bernice McCurdy Daugherty Scholarship, Ida Whitsitt Lewis Endowed Music Scholarship, David and Lucile Packard Endowed Scholarship and Loan, and the Carl L. and Shirley L. Roberts Endowed Scholarship. She is majoring in international political economy and plans to minor in classics.
“Academically, CC challenges you beyond just learning the material by encouraging you to apply it and create an in-depth understanding,” Bilgi says. She adds that she’s had considerable access to professors in addition to the traditional classroom setting through office hours, lunch at Rastall, community events, a weeklong field study in New Mexico, and a class on the ancient Mediterranean that took students to Rome, Naples, and Sicily.
During Winter Break, Bilgi took a Half-Block class in diplomacy hosted by the Career Center that led to a new interest in foreign service. This summer, she will have the chance to gain insight into the field through an internship at the U.S. consulate in Turkey for the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Bilgi has immersed herself in campus life with a wide variety of activities, including serving as a Bridge Scholars Program mentor and Student Government Association representative.
“I feel like if I was given the privilege to be here, I see it as my responsibility to contribute as much as I’m gaining from this institution because that bilateral relationship, that mutual understanding, truly is what an undergraduate education should entail,” she says.
Every year, CC loses talented students to schools that can offer more competitive financial aid packages. For example, in the 2014-2015 academic year, 126 admitted students who chose other colleges or universities cited better aid packages as the reason. At 14 peer institutions, a higher percentage of students are able to receive need-based financial aid than at CC.
As a private college, CC is a tuition-driven institution. And although the college pays close attention to sculpting a class with exceptional diversity, tuition dollars support more than two-thirds of the operating budget for each year. Funding every qualified student simply isn’t an option.
Meeting the Needs of Today’s Students
Committed to the philosophy that cost should not deter a student from considering CC, the college uses financial need as the primary consideration in awarding financial aid. CC awards need-based financial aid to 34 percent of the student body, furnishing an average aid package of $44,786 for full-time undergraduate students, excluding loans, which amounts to 63.6 percent of demonstrated need. In most cases, federal financial aid does not cover the entire cost of attendance, so in a commitment to fund 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated need, CC’s comprehensive financial aid package consists of several components — institutional, state, and federal aid in the form of grants and loans.
Alan Yeung ’16, a computer science and economics major from Colorado, was drawn to the immersive environment made possible by Colorado College’s Block Plan, but CC’s financial aid offer really made the difference.
“I’m trying to pay for college on my own. CC offered me a fair amount of grant money, which helped me attend,” Yeung says.
Funding that has assisted Yeung has included the Euclid Scholarship in Mathematics and Computer Science, the Colorado College Scholars grant, James J. Sinton Memorial Scholarship, Frank Flood and Randy Bobier Endowed Scholarship, and the Farver Endowed Scholarship.
During his years of study at CC, Yeung has tutored at the Quantitative Reasoning Center, worked as a resident assistant, co-founded the Colorado College Coding Club, and participated in the Asian Student Union. He’s also interned in system administration twice at Lockheed Martin, where he’s been offered a full-time position after graduation.
Yeung recently programmed a ‘bot’ to play the board game “Othello” for a course in artificial intelligence (AI).
“I had to program an alpha beta search algorithm, which is a decently complicated algorithm in computer science. I think it’s beatable, but I haven’t beaten it, and I’ve tested it against other online bots, AIs, that are pretty good supposedly and they haven’t beaten it. We need to find an ‘Othello’ master,” he says.
Currently, Yeung’s working on theses for his two majors. For economics, he is examining class data from several years to determine whether the proportion of higher-achieving students helped or hurt the grades of middle- and low-achieving students. For computer science, his thesis is based on an AI agent learning to make smart decisions in “Minecraft,” another virtual gaming environment.
“We’re basically trying to create an AI agent to perform actions in a smart way using machine learning, deep neural networks, and reinforcement learning. The goal is to improve on a generalized algorithm to learn anything from data. It’s hard, but if you have the right professor and the right people to talk to, it makes it a lot easier,” Yeung says.
Preparing for Future Students
CC is making every effort to move toward not having to consider a prospective student’s financial situation when deciding admission. This approach is known as “need blind.”
The college has determined that $90 million in additional scholarship support would move CC one-third of the way to achieving that goal. Such resources would make CC accessible for more qualified students, particularly those from lower- and middle-class families. At the same time, it would make CC more competitive among peer institutions vying for prospective students.
Altogether, $80 million in endowed funds would create more than 160 new endowed scholarships, giving the college ability to provide financial aid to 880 students versus the 713 students CC is able to support today. An additional $10 million would provide non-endowed, expendable funds for scholarships.
One way CC is preparing for the financial needs of future students is through the $10 million Endowed Scholarship Challenge 101. An alumnus of Colorado College, who wishes to remain anonymous, set up an endowed scholarship fund through his estate plans and issued a challenge to fellow graduates and friends of CC to join him in establishing 101 new scholarships or enhancing existing scholarships. Donations made through estate plans and gifts through June 30, 2018, are eligible for the challenge, which is anticipated to add $20 million in scholarship funding.
Fifty years after graduating from Colorado College as a Barnes Scholar, Robert Grant ’65 called his alma mater to make a significant commitment to the Otis A. and Margaret T. Barnes Chemistry Scholarship Fund, which was established by Otis Barnes, professor of chemistry, and his wife, Margaret Tyson Barnes ’27. Grant’s call to the college happened to be on the first day of the CC Scholarship Challenge 101.
“It was purely a coincidence that I called the college on July 1, 2015, but it was great to learn that because of timing and the tremendous generosity of someone else my commitment will be multiplied,” said Grant, whose $200,000 designation will draw another $100,000 for scholarships through the challenge.
Additionally, CC is working to grow its Annual Fund, which provides unrestricted, expendable support for priority projects like scholarships. The Annual Fund is an essential component of CC’s yearly operating budget.
“A strong Annual Fund allows the college to respond quickly to new opportunities or urgent needs. For example, if a student’s financial situation changes, perhaps a parent loses a job, gifts to the Annual Fund could be used to help increase that student’s aid to allow him or her to continue to attend CC,” says Kerry Brooke Steere, director of annual giving.
Steere notes that modest gifts can make a significant difference. In fiscal year 2015, gifts of $250 or less, combined, raised $844,000 for CC — an amount roughly equivalent to financial aid packages for 24 students. And, those gifts had an immediate impact, benefiting students on campus today.
Additional funding will further open the college’s doors to the best and the brightest from all walks of life. The admission of more students with the potential to thrive at CC, regardless of their families’ economic circumstances, will invigorate the entire campus community. By bolstering robust financial aid packages, the college will broaden access to the Block Plan.
DISCOVER MORE ONLINE
To support Colorado College’s efforts to increase scholarships and aid, visit www.coloradocollege.edu/supportscholarships.