Greetings, Washington Magazine readers! I’m writing to you from a bustling campus full of students, faculty and staff working together and partaking in some of our treasured traditions. While I’m proud of our community’s compassionate resilience during the ongoing pandemic, I’m grateful that we’re spending less energy on keeping people apart and more on being together and cultivating an authentically supportive community of discovery — a hallmark of Washington University.
When I took the helm of WashU in October 2019, I promised to increase access to Washington University for talented students regardless of their backgrounds or previous opportunities. I shared my commitment to ensuring each student has everything they need to thrive while they’re here (and beyond!). And I pledged to work toward joining other top-tier institutions in offering need-blind admissions —that is, an admissions model that does not factor in an applicant’s ability to pay. I firmly believe that these values are moral imperatives, as well as essential to attracting the brightest students with a wonderful diversity of experiences to share.
Building on the momentum that began with the visionary leadership of our previous administration, I could not be more proud to share that earlier this fall, we announced our “Gateway to Success,” a historic investment in financial aid and student support at Washington University.
Gateway to Success is a $1 billion commitment to advancing our distinction in academics and student success through investing heavily in financial aid and student support. It will allow us to ensure that all qualified students have access to the world-class experience of a Washington University education. It’s a historic investment in undergraduate, graduate and professional students across all seven schools. And it fully funds need-blind admissions effective immediately; our admissions process currently underway for incoming Fall 2022 students is completely need-blind.
So how did we do it, and how can we keep up this very worthwhile investment?
First, we have long benefited from a proud tradition of loyal and generous scholarship support from alumni and friends who share our values and wholeheartedly believe in our mission — including many of you reading this letter. For decades, you have heeded the call to help us open our doors more widely to deserving students regardless of their socioeconomic background. In fact, as this issue goes to print, we’re winding down the Danforth memorial fundraising efforts in support of student aid, a touching tribute to Chancellor William Danforth’s legacy of scholarship support. And I continue to be astounded at the incredible generosity of our community.
Second, we benefited from a lot of brilliance (and a little luck) on the part of our finance and investment teams, which led to an unprecedented, trajectory-altering endowment return for the most recent fiscal year. With this windfall, we will create new endowments to help fund these priorities, ensuring that our commitment to educational access and holistic student support will remain a top priority for generations to come.
I cannot overstate how fortunate we are to have such strong financial leaders, as well as dedicated professionals across all units of the university. These include two outstanding new leaders who are first-generation college graduates themselves: Anna Gonzalez, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Provost Beverly Wendland. Both of them will be a major force in implementing the Gateway to Success initiative.
While this historic investment is certainly a cause for celebration, it’s just the beginning of the next phase of our commitment to student access and support. If these are to remain our foundational principles, we must continue doing what brought us to this exciting place: investing wisely, giving generously, paying forward the support we’ve received on our journeys, and always challenging our assumptions of what people can achieve if given the opportunity.
It is my dream that as long as there is a Washington University in St. Louis, it will be known as a place where students from all backgrounds can receive a world-class education, while also being welcomed and cared for. Further, it will be known as a place that prepares them to take their place among the world’s most supportive and successful network of alumni and friends who are leaving the world better than they found it. We’ve already made great strides, and I believe we can do even more, by doing it together.