President Mark D. Gearan was invited by President Barack Obama to be among only 85 college presidents in the nation who attended a Higher Education Summit at the White House on Thursday, Jan. 16, launching a plan of action for increasing college opportunity for low-income and disadvantaged students. The Summit included discussions about higher education’s role in increasing college opportunities, an initiative that has been a primary focus of Hobart and William Smith, most recently through the Geneva 2020 project. Summit meetings included President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other members of the Department of Education and the National Economic Policy Council.
“I am proud that the work of Hobart and William Smith Colleges is being recognized in this way,” said Gearan. “The Colleges have a long history of providing access to students with demonstrated need and in partnering with our colleagues in the local school district to increase graduation rates and college attendance levels. I am honored to collaborate with national leaders and to share ideas on how we can collectively expand opportunities.”
Colleges with presidents attending included Georgetown University, Yale University, Vassar College, Barnard College, the University of Maryland and the University of Texas at Austin, among others.
Hobart and William Smith currently fund several programs and scholarships to assist low-income and disadvantaged students to attend and compete in college. The Colleges have increased the share of Pell-eligible students (17% of students are Pell recipients), participated in cohort-based models such as Posse, engaged more students in bridge programs that improve the transition from high school to college, and expanded financial aid in the past five years from $27 million to $43 million, making financial aid 30% of the Colleges’ operating budget.
In addition, HWS piloted a unique program – Geneva 2020 – rooted in the collective impact model aimed directly at ensuring that low-income high school students in our community have the skills necessary to graduate from high school and to effectively pursue college. The program has already helped move the local high school graduation rate from 70% in 2010 to 82% in 2013, and to increase the number of local high school students entering college from 74% in 2009 to 76% in 2013.
This summer, HWS celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Geneva Scholarship Associates which since its inception has enabled nearly 200 students from Geneva who have financial need to attend the Colleges.
Since 1999, Gearan has led the Colleges during a period of unprecedented growth and development. One of our nation’s leading experts on the intersection of higher education and civic engagement, Gearan is chair of the Talloires Network Steering Committee. With extensive credentials in public policy, he served as Director of the Peace Corps and was Assistant to the President, Director of Communications and Deputy Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House. Outside of the education and service arenas, Gearan is an appointee of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform. The national commission focuses on policy recommendations on electoral system reform, congressional reform and encouragement of greater public service. He is a former member of the White House Council for Community Solutions, a group of cross-sector leaders appointed by President Obama to recommend collaborative solutions to increase civic engagement. In the upstate region, Gearan serves on the advisory councils of the Happiness House Foundation, Ontario ARC and the Geneva Community Center, and is a founding member of Geneva 2020.
Gearan’s participation in the White House summit was covered by a number of media outlets. Among those who interviewed him for their coverage were the Chronicle of Higher Education, WXXI radio, the Finger Lakes Times, Democrat and Chronicle and Finger Lakes News Radio, all of which included interviews.