As we look at the state of affairs for admissions and enrollment in small schools across the country, says Director of Admissions John Crosson, “It’s a tricky time, especially in New England. The family income in our region has not gone up to match tuition increases, so people just don’t have the money to pay. Understandably, we’re seeing a huge rise in the percentage of families and students who are applying for financial aid, as opposed to even just a few years ago. So there’s great strain on financial aid budgets at schools. Boards and heads of schools and people in my job are constantly weighing the options of, ‘Do I take a student who has demonstrated financial need, someone who is a complete match for the school and would be a wonderful addition and an asset to our community… but the cost would be carrying that student on the financial aid books for — well, if they’re a sixth grader, for seven years. What do we do?’”
“Saying ‘How?’ is completely the right thing to do,” Crosson adds, “but obviously we still have to pay the bills. The generosity of donors is allowing us to think outside these boxes and bring some students to campus who belong here, thrive here, and make it a better place for absolutely everyone.”
Grace Scholars at Watkinson
Grace Academy, in Hartford, is an all-girls school for grades five through eight. For the last several years, Crosson notes, Watkinson has accepted and funded a number of Grace Academy graduates. “They’re great kids,” he says, “and they really add to the school. Unfortunately, we can’t afford them all the time.” Enter Jan and David Klein, who made a very generous donation to start what the school is calling the Grace Scholars at Watkinson Fund. “Now we’ve had some other donors give to it as well,” says Crosson, “such that we can now look to take maybe a student a year from that school who would otherwise be hitting our financial aid books at almost a full scholarship. But with the money that comes in from the fund, we are able to maybe fund them at half of a scholarship instead; the other money comes in as real dollars, as it would from a family member. So that really helps the scholar, and it really helps the school. It’s exciting all round.”
A second donor-funded opportunity program is City Scholars, for students from Hartford who have college in their future but who aren’t quite ready to go yet, students “who need one more year of seasoning,” as Crosson says. Donors are contributing to tuition costs to allow Watkinson to accept and fully fund a City Scholar each year.
Because the City Scholar commitment is only one post-graduate year, it is an attractive option for corporate donors as well as individuals. In addition, Watkinson has added a special event to its annual calendar to raise funds for City Scholars; the second annual Watkinson Classic golf tournament tees off on September 17th!
The SPHERE Program, which has been running at Watkinson for decades, has also inspired a dedicated donor to come forward:
The gift to fund a SPHERE scholar helped to expand the philanthropic thinking of the school; we have now created a program called “Change A Life. Fund A Lifer” to attract and celebrate donors who want this kind of high-impact, high-visibility funding opportunity. “The sweetest part of the story is when our SPHERE, Grace, or City Scholar students get to spend time with their donors,” says Director of Communications Jenni French. “It’s really lovely for all involved.”
As the strategic plan continues to mature, Crosson says, he has no doubt that other donors will be inspired to partner with Watkinson to keep an outstanding education accessible for a wider swath of the Greater Hartford community. “It’s a time of change and uncertainty,” Crosson says, “and for many schools that may mean a time of drawing in. At Watkinson, we’ve decided to do the opposite. It’s never been a better or more important time to invest in our kids. And we are beyond grateful to these donors who see things the same way.”