It's been a heck of a ride. But now what?


By Gerry Boyle '78

An impending reduction in financial aid support from the Davis UWC Scholars program as a result of the economic downturn poses a challenge as Colby tries to sustain its international profile.

“The ambition is to stay among the most well represented in that group of schools that’s being supported,” President William D. Adams said, describing the intersection of the Davis Foundation changes and economic pressures as “an interesting confluence.”

Here are the numbers:

The original Davis Five pilot program expanded to other colleges and universities and now includes 92 partner schools. Non-charter participants received a maximum of $10,000 per student, while the original five continued to receive up to $40,000. But in 2010, with the economic downturn affecting the program’s endowment, funding was reduced to a maximum of $10,000 per year per student. Another $10,000 per student is awarded to the program’s high-performing schools (13 at last count including Colby) with 40 or more Davis UWC Scholars enrolled. “All of our partner schools are expected to ‘have skin in the game,’” the program’s executive director, Philip Geier, wrote in an e-mail.

The Davis Five each were awarded an additional multiyear $200,000 grant to help ease the transition to the new funding cap. But over the long run, enrolling international UWC students, most of whom require significant financial aid, now could carry a price tag for Colby of more than $30,000 per year for each UWC student. Despite that new financial reality, at Colby and elsewhere, Geier said he’s seen “no sign of partner schools weakening in their commitment to the program.”

A decade in, the program has supported nearly 3,000 scholars, and all indications (from site visits, anecdotal feedback, and reports from students and school administrators) are that the goals are being achieved, Geier said. “All indications are positive,” he said, including scholars voicing their intention to give back in the model of their benefactor, philanthropist Shelby Davis.

Geier lauded Colby for its consistent, high UWC enrollments and international emphasis. “Colby has been a leader in embracing a global philosophy for its future,” he said.

But still, at Colby it’s been time to take stock and to decide how and to what extent the College will be able to step up.

The College is moving forward with enrollment of 15 UWC students for the Class of 2014 (down from a peak of 29 for the Class of 2006), affirming the intention to maintain the international makeup of Colby’s student body. Colby admissions officers say it’s a distinction that could become more pronounced in future years if some schools shy away from the additional cost. But they also say that investing in international students now could pay off as the College tries to enroll increasing numbers of full-pay, academically qualified students from countries like China and India.

Said Steve Thomas, Colby’s admissions director since 1998, “We can be in a very strong position.”

In the meantime, Colby has to consider other goals, including enrollment of students from underrepresented groups, students from Maine, and students who make up the College’s traditional base. This has to be done as the endowment recovers, but the effects of the economic downturn remain.
Said Adams: “It really is a question of how you balance priorities in a setting of seriously constrained resources.”

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