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Transforming lives through scholarships

One of my most closely held ideals about Elon University is that we must be a community accessible to more students who come from backgrounds of modest financial means. The values and character of Elon University compel us to avoid becoming a gated community, accessible only to students from families fortunate enough to have resources to pay private university tuition. Need-based financial aid provided to the university through annual fund gifts and endowment income is a profound force in shaping an enriched and more vibrant environment for learning.

Ten years ago the estate gift of Leon and Lorraine Watson laid the groundwork for a new scholarship program to assist students of the highest character with high financial need. Today Watson Scholars are among the most impressive young people you will meet at Elon. I recently attended a welcome dinner for entering first-year Watson Scholars and was moved beyond words by the address of 2004 alumna LaToya Marcus. Following her graduation from Elon, LaToya was accepted into the highly competitive Teach for America program and, using the Spanish language profi ciency she developed while at Elon and studying in Spain, made a critical difference in the lives of young people in a Texas border town. LaToya’s mother, Lynda, a hard-working single mom, also sat at my table, both of us beaming with pride at the words of encouragement and wisdom LaToya offered to the new students.

In this issue of The Magazine of Elon, you will read about the impact of the new Odyssey Program based on the success of the Watson Scholars model that has increased our capacity to identify and support other students like LaToya (see story page 18). These are young men and women of enormous character and potential whose lives will be transformed by an Elon education and who will, in turn, make transformative differences in the lives of others.

With more than 9,000 applications for 1,300 seats in the freshman class, each year we have an extraordinary opportunity to shape a class profi le with optimal combinations of academic, athletic, musical and artistic talents. And each entering class is further enriched by the presence of young people with demonstrated capacity to overcome challenges. Through force of character, perseverance, intelligence and personal integrity, they are determined to build successful lives and careers using the power of an Elon education. Odyssey Scholars make us a much richer and stronger community.

Need-based financial aid also plays a critical role in making Elon accessible to thousands of students at middle-income levels. Often a scholarship of even $2,000–$3,000 makes all the difference in allowing students and their families to choose Elon in lieu of a lowercost state university. While Elon prides itself on its best-value rankings and reputation, a total price tag of $33,725 still represents a signifi cant financial challenge to many working families. This scholarship aid is part of a package that includes family contributions, earnings from summer employment, loans, college work study, private scholarships and, for North Carolina residents, the Legislative Tuition Grant program — each of which many families depend on in order to choose Elon. Of course, it is our desire to help students keep their loan burdens as low as possible, but with its modest endowment, Elon does not currently have the resources to substitute scholarship grants for loans, as is the case at some of the nation’s wealthiest universities.

There is no more important work in my presidency than making Elon more accessible to extraordinary young people who depend on scholarship assistance to support their attendance. I have been inspired and moved by many alumni and parents who were scholarship recipients themselves and are now grateful to have the opportunity to give back. The Ever Elon Campaign, which recently crossed the $70 million mark, has its primary emphasis on building endowment for scholarship aid. When you read the stories in this magazine about lives that have been changed by generosity and love, I hope you, too, will be inspired to act.

Leo M. Lambert
President