Opinion: Auburn provost on the power of the right money at the right time



Auburn is on the rise. We have grown in size and academic rigor. Now a competitive R1 national research university, we attract the brightest students, raise our visibility and accelerate our impact on the world. But there is one thing that is holding us back.

We are losing some of the best students because they cannot afford to be here.

Earlier this week, the university launched an unprecedented scholarship and financial aid initiative that will make the Auburn experience accessible to students who have the intellect, motivation and desire, but perhaps not the means, to attend. Never Auburn is designed to make the dream of an Auburn education possible and in so doing, position our institution for a stronger future.

This initiative is deeply personal to me. While many people know that I am a first generation college graduate, few know that I am also a first generation high school graduate. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, it’s hard to describe what it’s like to be one of these students.

I was fortunate that generous people helped me go to college and finish my youth. At one point when I was in college, I ran out of funds and didn’t know how I was going to finish the semester. Without fanfare, a man named Leon Earl stepped in with a $ 150 scholarship that allowed me to complete the semester. His generosity demonstrated the important impact that a single person can have on the life of a student. I often think of Leon Earl because without him and this scholarship I’m not sure I would be done. And if I hadn’t finished this semester, I’m not sure I would be here today.

So I’m the living embodiment of how selflessness and access can change someone’s life. The Never Auburn the scholarships will create access for students with both merit and need. They will extend assistance to students like me, who are already registered but who may not cross the finish line due to lack of funds. They will support gifted students Auburn wants, but who choose peer schools that offer more generous aid.

Struggling to keep the dream alive

I think of students like Caleb Kirk, a high school National Merit Scholar who is currently studying chemical engineering. Caleb was offered a full tour of Alabama, but his dream was to go to Auburn. One of six children, he knew from the start that he would fund college on his own. Despite obtaining a scholarship, he still had to find the money for housing, a meal plan, gasoline and daily expenses. Without funds like the Never Auburn Scholarships, we could lose students like Caleb.

Or like Donovan Evins, who is studying for a degree in medical laboratory science. Living in a single parent family, Donovan constantly fills out scholarship forms that his mother gives him to make sure he can enroll in the next semester.

And there was the story of a nursing student who studied by candlelight at night to save money on electricity.

These hard-working students represent the best of what it means to be a part of the Auburn family. And yet, students in these situations have no choice but to go into heavy debt or accumulate jobs, which increases the risk of burnout and sometimes leaves them heavily in debt and without a degree. We spend a lot of time recruiting talented students, but we can’t forget our responsibility to support students once they enroll. For some, just one setback in their health or family life can derail an academic career.

Getting a college degree has never been more important

As we know, earning a post-secondary degree has never been more important as students prepare to enter a job market that is more unpredictable and competitive than ever before. As employers grapple with navigating the post-pandemic economy, our students know that a college degree, which emphasizes critical thinking skills, is the most important investment they can. do in themselves. They also value Auburn’s affiliation as an integral part of their future career prospects.

Auburn must be known as an accessible university. As a land granting institution, we have an obligation to ensure that we serve all Alabama students. If we believe that the most talented and hard-working students in our state deserve the opportunity to graduate from an institution like Auburn, then we have a responsibility to provide an affordable and accessible path to it.

A commitment to what matters

We cannot do it alone. A commitment of this magnitude is a “everyone on deck” proposition. We thank alumni and friends who have already given to establish Never Auburn scholarships, as well as those who will in the future. With the support of the Auburn family, we will succeed in opening our doors wider and ensuring the Auburn experience for future generations.

The impact of Never Auburn will be exponential, providing a pathway for talented, high-quality students to graduate and fully contribute to university life. This is an opportunity to attract the best students for Auburn’s future and to strengthen Auburn’s core values ​​of hard work, education and family for the entire Auburn community.

In the end, isn’t that what matters most?

Bill Hardgrave is Dean and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Auburn University.


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