Speeches & Writings

Opening the gateway to success

On October 3, 2019, I had the tremendous privilege of standing in Brookings Quad and sharing with the Washington University community and an audience watching from around the world about my dreams for our institution. On that day, the day of my inauguration, I promised to increase access to Washington University for talented students regardless of their background or previous opportunities. I shared my commitment to ensuring each student has everything they need to thrive. And in due course, we would offer a need-blind admissions model that does not factor in an applicant’s ability to pay.  Rather, admissions decisions would be based only on academic potential, strong personal characteristics and qualities, activities and commitment, and potential for fit and engagement in the WashU community.

Two years later, on October 1, 2021 our board voted unanimously, with joy and gratitude, to implement our Gateway to Success program, a historic $1 billion investment in student financial aid for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and the fulfillment of my inauguration promise: WashU undergraduate admissions would be completely need-blind, effective immediately, and will stay that way forever.

 How we were able to reach this milestone from a financial perspective is a whole other blog post. In short, we are able to make this game-changing investment in our students and in the future of WashU because of the exceptional generosity of alumni and friends, the brilliance of our investment and finance teams, and a bit of luck.  If you keep up with WashU news, you know that our endowment saw an extraordinary 65% return last fiscal year, allowing us to push the fast-forward button on our aspirations.

The “why” is why I’m writing today, rather than the “how.”  This moment is about the talented students who’ve done the work, served their communities, run the race, crushed the obstacles, and handed it all over with hopeful hearts to Washington University. 

It’s about making sure that the most promising students have the opportunity to study here at WashU regardless of their financial situations, but also the flipside of that: WashU is made better by including them. And even beyond that, it’s about their potential to change the world through their gifts, their talents, and their extraordinary determination.  

It’s about students like Marquise Butcher, Emanuel Barcenas, Mackenzie Hines-Wilson, Jaliece Rivers, Meris Saric, and Tabitha Smith – the first members of our College Prep Program to graduate this past spring and whose stories were shared in the August issue of Washington Magazine. And students like Zussy Chavira Duron, who was among the first students to receive a scholarship through the WashU Pledge, an initiative to attract the best and brightest right here at home.

For every student like those mentioned here – students who have the capability and drive to succeed at WashU, but who lack the means – there are many more who would benefit from a Washington University education and who would contribute so much. Now we can give them that opportunity.

The opportunity to succeed, however, does not guarantee success. Admitting the best students from all socio-economic backgrounds is the first step. Providing the support and resources to succeed once they’re on campus is the next.

Once WashU becomes a student’s home, do they feel welcome at our table? Is the curriculum relevant? Are they receiving adequate mentorship and career preparation? Can they study abroad? Are their basic needs being met daily, so they can bring their best to their studies?  

Leaders across campus have spent many, many hours examining these questions with great honesty, and we’ve been strengthening student support programs.  Now that we are need-blind, though, we will need to invest even more, and we are prepared to do so.

I believe our community deeply values diversity of thought, experience, and demographics.  I believe we understand that with this investment, we’re entering a new era of excellence. And I believe our alumni, friends, and supporters will continue to walk this path with us as we strive to better support the whole student in order to help them reach their potential.

Together we have opened the gateway to success, and I can’t wait to share more with you as we realize the impact of putting our values into action in this significant way.