(ART ADV: With photo.)
Vassar College, a leader in making elite college attendance more accessible for low-income students, is getting a new president.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, 54, a professor of public health at Yale, will take over as leader of Vassar in Poughkeepsie, New York, this summer, the liberal arts college announced Wednesday.
She arrives at a moment when colleges and universities across the country are debating questions of access and identity on campus. Fundamentally, both are issues of diversity: How do you get different kinds of students onto one campus, and how do you truly serve them all once they arrive?
“How do you manage a diverse community so it’s not divisive, so it’s community-building?” Bradley said in an interview. “I think Yale College has dealt with it, and Vassar College has dealt with it, and many colleges across the nation. I think the nation as a whole is dealing with that problem.”
Anthony J. Friscia, a member of Vassar’s board of trustees and co-chairman of the committee that scouted its next president, said the college made a decision about 10 years ago to increase diversity on campus on several fronts. Under Bradley’s predecessor, Catharine Bond Hill, who left the college last year after a decade as its president, Vassar has been at the forefront of an effort by elite colleges to admit more low-income students.
In 2015, The New York Times produced a College Access Index, ranking colleges based on factors like the percentage of their students who receive Pell grants, a form of federal student aid that goes to the poorest students. Vassar ranked first among private institutions.
The percentage of minority students has also increased during that time. In the 2006-07 academic year, 22 percent of those enrolled were minority students, Vassar said. This year, 34 percent are.
Hill left to become managing director at Ithaka S+R, an educational nonprofit that is among several organizations participating in an effort that Bloomberg Philanthropies announced in December called the American Talent Initiative, which is aimed at increasing the number of low- and moderate-income students enrolled at top colleges. Vassar was among the first colleges to sign on.
But just getting a more diverse pool of students on campus is not enough, many colleges say.
In the last few years, many colleges have seen protests over the treatment of racial minorities on campus. Students at Yale have fought hard for, among other things, renaming one of the university’s residential colleges, Calhoun, which was named after John C. Calhoun, a former student and a politician from South Carolina who was virulently in favor of slavery. So far, the name remains.
Gender issues have also come to the forefront, as transgender students have increasingly come out on campuses and pushed for colleges to address their needs, said Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Those might include the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms, whether hormones are covered by the campus health insurance or what name is used on a student’s records.
Vassar’s history — it began as a women’s college and became coeducational in 1969 — puts it in an ideal position to deal with those issues, Bradley said.
“This is a college that was founded originally for people who could not otherwise get this education — they happened to be women,” she said. “Today we have so many people who are unable to access this kind of high-quality education, and Vassar is a place that’s really attacking this.”
Bradley continued: “That’s a great inspiration for me starting there. It has all the ingredients to really be a national model on how to do it.”
Raised in New Britain, Connecticut, Bradley has an MBA from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Yale. She has worked to improve health care systems worldwide, including in China, Ethiopia and Rwanda. She has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers and three books, including “The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More Is Getting Us Less.”
While at Yale she was also the leader of Branford College, another of the university’s residential colleges (a title until recently known as “master”). Her first official day at Vassar will be July 1.
Jonathan L. Chenette, dean of faculty at Vassar, has been interim president since Hill’s departure.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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