It is September in Houghton once again. The leaves are beginning to turn their brilliant red, orange and yellow. The dew on the morning grass is turning to frost. The students are back on campus—masked, and “socially distancing” to be sure but full of the energy and eagerness that makes September my favorite month of the Academic Year. There is everything to look forward to—new classes, new friendships, the opportunity for a new start. This year, all these September gifts are treasured all the more because we know as never before that they can be taken from us at a moment’s notice. It is a sobering but exhilarating time.
Among the September rituals in American higher education are the rankings of the U.S. News and World Report. This year, once again, we are grateful for the recognition that has come to Houghton College. In the overall rankings of “best national liberal arts colleges,” we were third among our sister Christian colleges, right behind Wheaton and Westmont. And we placed among the top 15 in the very competitive world of New York State national liberal arts colleges. While we recognize fully that this is only one way of measuring value in higher education, we want to celebrate that Houghton continues to be known for its high academic quality not only in the Christian world, but in the world of higher education in general. (As many of you know, the “reputation factor” among higher education leaders is a key aspect of the U.S. News Rankings.)
Celebrating the Recognition of our Core Identity
But while I am pleased about the overall rankings, I rejoice even more in Houghton’s appearance on two of the U.S. News special recognition lists—Social Mobility and A+ Schools for B Students. In both of these categories, Houghton was the #1 national liberal arts college in New York State. We were #10 in the nation for Social Mobility and #26 in the nation for A+ Schools for B Students. These are the plaudits for which our founders Willard J. Houghton and James S. Luckey would be most grateful. For these reflect, even more than the national rankings, what Houghton is all about. We were founded, not to replicate the work of the many other institutions of higher education, but to meet the needs of students who were not being served well. That was our calling in 1883. It has continued to be Houghton’s work over the years to the extent at least that we have always made affordability a twin trademark along with high quality. (We were doing “affordability” and “accessibility” long before Margaret Spellings made these words fashionable at the Department of Education!) We have always hosted a student body made up of around 40% PELL students (reflecting those who qualify for the most need-based federal aid).
This year’s U.S. News Rankings have recognized us for what we have always known about ourselves—our calling to meet students where they are and to take them well beyond anything they could imagine in understanding their own potential and the particular difference that only they can make in the world. Social Mobility measures the degree to which institutions succeed in enabling students with the greatest financial need to graduate on time. At a time when many students from first–generation families and great financial need borrow funds to begin college but are never able to finish—thus leaving them with loans but no degree—Houghton College is known as a place where students are given the tools and the confidence to complete what they set out to do. A+ Schools for B Students measures our capacity not only to serve “A” students well (all schools do that—and we certainly do our share of that as well!) but to serve those students who, for one reason or another, do not bring in the high school grades to match their aspirations or their potential or their sheer “grit.”
We know those in our alumni base who would be the first to say, “No, I did not get into the Honors program at Houghton, but Houghton enabled me to see my potential and set me on the right course.” It shows up in actual comments such as, “At Houghton, I could not be lost in the cracks.”
As we consider Houghton’s next Strategic Plan, we are moving even more intentionally to strengthen our historic calling. We want to reach those students for whom a Houghton education can make all the difference in realizing their potential for their own wellbeing, the flourishing of their families and their neighborhoods, and, ultimately, the good of the world. Some of these students are right here in Western New York. Some will come to us from around the world, through the gifts of technology. Some will be the traditional 18-21–year–olds; some will be older learners who have never had the opportunity to come to college.
As part of this intentionality, we have announced a new pricing model that will make it much clearer to prospective students and their families that they can truly afford a Houghton education. We believe this new pricing model will make the entire college admission and financial aid process much more transparent. It will also allow for greater parity in pricing among the various ways in which students may choose to begin or continue their Houghton education. Thus, we are speaking to both concerns of affordability and flexibility—two of the major concerns among students of all ages.
We celebrate September 2020 and look forward to all God will accomplish in this place and through the lives of our Houghton family around the world during this 2020-21 academic year.
Grace and Peace to you today.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976