Campaign Impact: Financial Aid Opens Doors to Promising Women

Smith students and donors at a lunch celebrating the impact of scholarship aid—a tradition that began on campus in 2015.

The students’ words vary slightly, but the sentiments are unwavering:

“Without financial aid I wouldn’t be here.”

“Simply put, I would not be attending Smith without my scholarships.”

Then, the thanks:

“I am forever grateful to those who made it possible for me to be here with their donations.”

“There are not words that would sufficiently express the gratitude my family and I have for all of the doors that have opened to me as a result of this donation.”

Students from the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 wrote these words in advance of a March 2016 lunch celebrating the impact of scholarship aid. In recognition of the great number of donors who have stepped forward to support scholarship aid, Smith introduced the annual luncheon in 2015, giving donors the opportunity to meet student recipients.

“This is such a meaningful experience for both donors and students. It is an opportunity for mentorship and a shared Smith connection. It has become a starting place for deeper relationships,” says Marissa Hoechstetter, director of donor relations.

The 120 or so students who attended the most recent lunch represent a fraction of the 1,497 students—62 percent of undergraduates—currently receiving financial aid. Smith has pledged to meet the demonstrated need of all students who apply for aid. Annually, the college awards around $60 million in scholarship support. Securing more funds for aid was the highest priority of the Women for the World campaign, which raised close to $130 million for financial aid, including funds for 103 new endowed scholarships.

“By offering generous financial aid, Smith has the capability of lifting women,” says April Hoxie Foley ’69, a trustee and chair of the Campaign Steering Committee. “Education can open their eyes to new things, broaden their sights and to make their lives better.”

Access was the key issue. Where-as affordability “is in the eyes of the tuition-paying parents,” says Vice President for Enrollment Audrey Smith, access “means making it possible to come to Smith by providing the financial aid to meet their demonstrated need.”

Donors Across the Giving Spectrum

This message resonated with donors across the giving spectrum. The Promise to the Future initiative, for instance, used a $10 million anonymous gift from a member of the class of 1986 to challenge other donors of $250,000 or more, whose gifts were matched dollar for dollar; 39 individual endowed scholarship funds from 46 donors were established or added to as a result. Another donor, Colette Gandelot ’91, made her first five-figure gift to Smith in support of student scholarships because she wanted to ensure that other women didn’t miss out on all that Smith has to offer. “The best educational opportunities are meaningless if they are not accessible to the young women who need and want them,” she says.

Isabella Casini ’17 is a case in point. “I would have likely attended a large, in-state university where I would have been funneled through a cookie-cutter engineering program,” says Casini, an engineering major. Christine Yee ’17, an economics major and mathematics minor, says financial aid has given her opportunities that “I never thought would be possible in my life,” such as participating in the Smith–Tuck Business Bridge Program for aspiring women business leaders. “That was life-changing for me,” Yee says. “I have more confidence in my work, and I have built a network of people that care about me.”

Financial aid also helps create a more diverse campus. “We are interested in actively pursuing both racial diversity and socioeconomic diversity,” Audrey Smith says. “We want access to a Smith education for low-income students regardless of race. And we want students of color to be interested in Smith regardless of socioeconomic status.” A diverse student body enriches the experience for everyone on campus, Smith adds. After all, she says, “That’s the world that students are going to graduate into.”

Even with the college’s endowed scholarship funds now increased by $115 million, the need to expand Smith’s financial aid program continues. “When we look at what is happening in admission—attracting a record-breaking number of applicants for 10 years in a row—we have the opportunity to continue to attract the most exceptional students to Smith,” Audrey Smith says. “And we must have scholarship funds to do so.”