Botzman: To Accomplish Mission, Academia Needs Economic Diversity


By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
President of Misericordia University

My father, George Botzman, is a talented man. He is good with his hands and has a knack for following the minutest of details – traits that endeared him to his employer of many years. The same skills he acquired as a machinist also enabled him to provide many homemade toys, including wooden trains and Christmas ornaments for his 13 children. It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that I did not share his aptitude.

I am sharing with you these fond memories of my father and my childhood to illustrate that dreams still do come true today. For me, that dream was earning a college degree – the same one that is shared by countless others across the country. The road I traveled to my undergraduate and graduate degrees, however, did not come without pitfalls due to my family’s modest means.

Through a combination of student loans, institutional scholarships, grants and work study, and other odd jobs, I managed to scrape just enough money together to finance my education. Focused work, perseverance and the generosity of many enabled me to complete my degree. I am eternally thankful.

It wasn’t long after graduation that I learned more about the federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant or SEOG that I received while in school. The SEOG program is reserved for students with the greatest amount of need. That piece of information made me realize how little resources my family had for living, let alone a college education.

I recalled many of these memories recently while I was reading to a class of three- and four-year olds that came to campus for a special program. Appropriately, we were reading the book, “Time for School, Mouse!,” by Laura Numeroff. The book details the challenges of finding everything and getting off to school on time.

One of the key challenges for collegians of today and tomorrow is how to pay for school. When most of those preschoolers are ready to matriculate to Misericordia or another college of their choice in 15 years, the cost of realizing their dream will be significantly greater. The College Board reports that an education at a private college costs about $30,000 annually. Assuming a 3-percent increase per year, tuition for a new student in 2030 will be about $47,000 annually.

Since a college degree remains the gateway to social and economic mobility, it is up to institutions of higher education, like Misericordia University, to manage costs, remain affordable, and be committed to an economically diverse campus. Our support for all students – including those who come from low-income backgrounds – is essential if we would like to continue to live in a society that supports all and grows in its ability to serve the marginalized.

Misericordia University remains true to its mission of serving students in need and first-generation students alike. More than 28-percent of part- and full-time undergraduate students received federal Pell grants for the last three academic years at MU. Pell grants are awarded solely based on need. In 2013-14, for example, 782 students received Pell support while an additional 198 qualified for the SEOG program. Additionally, more than 34 percent of the University’s full-time undergrads were first-generation students from 2011-14.

Many challenges lie ahead for higher education, but none are more pressing than affordability. As an industry, we can overcome changing demographics and advances in technology by making smart decisions, such as adjusting delivery modes that include blending online instruction with traditional classroom time. Academia, though, fails everyone when it limits access.

Thinking about the future can help all of us understand that we need to plan for things we cannot fully predict or understand. We do know that the little ones are growing up fast, so let us work together to ensure their futures.

Thomas J. Botzman
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County. Misericordia University ranks in the top tier of the Best Regional Universities – North category of U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 edition of Best Colleges and was designated a 2015 Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review.