All About Access
Gutmann speaks often of the importance of financial aid in making her own education and subsequent career possible—and of extending the opportunity of a Penn education to students who may assume that it is academically or financially out of their reach.
“Amy is all about access and diversity,” says Weiss. These days, when student debts are often so heavy, the fact that “kids are coming out of Penn loan-free” thanks to the all-grant policy has “a huge impact”—even if it did put more stress on him. “I keep referring to myself as Sisyphus,” he says (joking that he is maybe the only “Wharton guy” who can spell it). “Every time, you know, she comes up with one of those proposals, to endow it really raised the bar.” In fact, though, Weiss calls this initiative “tremendous,” and one that harks back to Benjamin Franklin himself, “when he set up Penn for the people.”
And scholarship aid resonates powerfully with donors, Weiss adds. “It’s a win-win because the student feels so grateful to the donor [and] the donor feels equally happy, because they’re providing that opportunity to get a great Penn education. So literally, as somebody once said, it’s the sweetest gift that you can give.”
“I’m incredibly proud of how the campaign was able to exceed our goal [of $350 million] in an important area like undergraduate financial aid,” Cohen says, which he adds was one of the highest priorities from the trustees’ perspective. That fact “speaks volumes, I think, about the commitment of the entire Penn community to making sure that the spectacular advantages of a Penn education are available to all.”
Making Penn more accessible and affordable through increased financial-aid resources makes the University even more dynamic, says Gutmann. “It’s more of an engine of opportunity for the very best, most talented, hard-working students than before.”
One out of seven students in Penn’s current freshman class is the first in his or her family to attend college, she notes. Since 2006, the percentage of students receiving aid has increased from 37 percent to 46.5 percent. “We’re seeing more and more both low- and middle-income students [understanding] that they can afford to come to Penn and being attracted to Penn” because of the all-grant program, Gutmann says. “So it’s both changed the composition of Penn to be able to attract more students who otherwise wouldn’t think Penn is affordable—and it’s made Penn more affordable to everybody.”
While financial aid for graduate and professional students tends to generate fewer warm feelings on the part of donors, it’s no less essential to Penn or the individual students who benefit from it. The $285.8 million contributed for graduate and professional aid in the campaign is more money than ever before in the University’s history. “All of our graduate and professional schools had that as a priority, and it made a huge difference in our success,” says Gutmann. “We’ve really increased graduate aid and professional aid by a lot over the course of the campaign.”
And having added resources from donors dedicated to financial aid has “allowed us to strengthen every part of Penn,” says Gutmann. At the start of her presidency, only 10 percent of financial-aid funding came from endowment income rather than the University’s operating budget. Now, about 22 percent comes from endowment—this despite the fact that in actual dollar terms the annual financial-aid funding has more than doubled. “So that, of course, allows us to free up resources for all the other things that make Penn a great university.”
PIKs and More
Of the 22 Penn Integrates Knowledge professorships funded through the campaign, 14 have been named as of this writing, representing fields from filmmaking to genetics.
The PIK concept was inspired by Penn’s “distinctive strength as an interdisciplinary, collaborative university with 12 schools on one compact urban campus,” says Gutmann. That combination of physical setting and philosophical openness is something that is “really hard for our peer institutions to replicate and compete with us” on, she adds. “What we did by creating PIK professors is attract the greatest scholars from around this country, who really thrive by collaborating with faculty here across schools and actually having a joint appointment between two schools.”
Weiss highlights the PIK professors as exemplary of the collaborative spirit at Penn. “I don’t know of any other [university] that’s been able to accomplish what Amy has been able to do. She’s got these schools working together,” he says, and quotes one of the PIK professors that the resulting cross-fertilization provides a kind of “stimulation [that] just doesn’t occur in other universities” and has been “the most fascinating academic experience of his career.”
But the PIK professors are far from the only representatives on the faculty of Penn’s collaborative strength or groundbreaking teaching and scholarship. “We have multiples of those PIK professors across all of our schools who now have joint appointments between departments and schools,” Gutmann says. “The PIK professors highlight the strength of Penn, and they are very distinctive. But they’re collaborating with and part of a larger faculty that is distinctively interdisciplinary and also problem-driven.”
Gutmann—who holds the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professorship in Political Science, one of five professorships in the School of Arts and Sciences endowed in 2008 through a $15 million gift from the late campaign co-chair—also notes that the PIK professors make up a relatively small percentage of the 161 positions newly endowed through the campaign. “Those professorships, plus the PIK professorships, have established Penn as the university to be at if you want to conduct collaborative, interdisciplinary research and teaching.”