Student Life

How Financial Reform Impacted Gordon’s Relationships with its Alumni

Over the last three years, Gordon College has undergone multiple transformative financial movements in the endeavor to secure a better future for the school, its students, faculty, and the greater Gordon community. In the fall of 2019, the school underwent significant budget cuts, resulting in the elimination of several academic departments entirely, along with a reduction in faculty, staff, and positions on campus. In an email sent by President Dr. D. Michael Lindsay to the Gordon student body, he explained: “In total, three percent of the College’s full-time equivalent workforce of 519 employees were part of the involuntary separation process. Another 3.5 percent of vacant (or soon-to-be vacant) positions will not be filled.” In his second point of the email, President Lindsay justifies this decision for the school by saying the following: “Second, this process was not simply about savings or streamlining—it was about re-envisioning our academic model to allow the College the ability to move toward becoming more affordable and more adaptable for students and families.”. 

Fast forward to the 2020-2021 academic year. On October 8th, 2020, Gordon announced its new initiative, The Gordon Game Change. This initiative would ultimately reduce Gordon’s official sticker tuition price by nearly thirty-three percent. According to Gordon College’s official website for The Gordon Game Change, “it’s time to dispel the myth that a college ‘sticker price’ is a measure of its quality. The decades-old game of ‘high sticker price/high financial aid’ is one students ultimately lose—and has closed the door to many families who expect excellence with affordability in choosing a private Christian college experience.” Here, it is important to understand what the naked eye cannot see. While a lower sticker price is appealing to incoming students, the process of switching from a “high sticker price/high financial aid” fails to advertise the necessary removal of financial aid packages and scholarships. A notable example includes the Legacy Scholarship, a small monetary award given to students with Alumni Parents. 

Daniel O’Connell, the Director of Student Financial Services at Gordon College, offered some insight as to why the school removed the Legacy Scholarship. First, Daniel makes it clear that “it isn’t that we don’t love our alumni, this is just what needed to be done.” He had noted that over the years, the school has received feedback from the alumni stating, “they were not recommending the school because of the cost.” He also added that the main reason for changing the sticker price completely was because “we knew that our alumni could not afford to send their children here.” Ultimately, while he explains that it was no easy decision, cutting the sticker price by thirteen-thousand was more beneficial than keeping the five-hundred dollar scholarship.  

While the monetary amount of this scholarship was small (only five-hundred dollars per academic year, divided into two-hundred fifty dollars per semester) for some alumni, it is the principle behind the scholarship that matters. For many alumni, the scholarship is a sign of thanks, love, and respect between Gordon College and the legacy of its alumni. Additionally, it represents a family’s continued generational commitment to and involvement at the school. Steve Sweren, a Gordon graduate from the class of 1999, says he feels nothing but appreciation for his time here at Gordon. However, he explains that “there have been many issues and decisions made at Gordon over the last 20 years that I strongly disagree with.” When asked specifically what his thoughts were on the removal of the scholarship, he had this to say: 

“The school needs to encourage legacy. I understand why Gordon is doing what they are doing, but from a legacy standpoint and a father myself, it is to the advantage of the school to get parents to want to send their kids here. If you can get generations of students to come to the school, that’s how you build the community and build the school. I am not a big fan of hurting the people closest to you.” 

Steve was also asked about his satisfaction with the engagement between alumni and Gordon’s Alumni Engagement office. “I get emails from the Alumni Engagement, but it seems like every single one is just asking me for money. I would love to see the opportunity for more forums and chances for alumni to give input. I would also like more transparency in the decision-making process at the school. It feels like these decisions are being made behind closed doors. And lastly, take care of your legacy students. Whatever that may look like.” 

Another alumni from the class of 2000, who asked to remain anonymous, was asked the same questions. 

“It’s a shame that the scholarship is being taken away. It was such a small amount to begin with, but it helped cover books for the semester. I too get emails from the Alumni Engagement, always asking me for money. Where is that money given by alumni going? Why is it not being returned to our Legacy students? There are other specific groups of students receiving scholarships, pastor’s kids, missionary kids, etc., why is it that the Legacy students are having their financial award removed?” 

There is a level of disconnect between Gordon College and Gordon alumni. While not everyone necessarily agrees with the alumni represented in this article, it is natural for individuals on both sides to be left unhappy in any business interaction. Fortunately for Gordon College, the Alumni Engagement Office is blessed to be headed by Amy France.  

France, a Gordon graduate from the class of 2001, has served the Gordon community through her employment since her years here as a student. Beginning her career as an Admissions Counselor, France has worked her way to her current position as Gordon’s Senior Director of Alumni Engagement. It’s safe to say that she has built an incredible legacy at Gordon not only professionally, but also communally and personally. 

When asked about her role specifically, France explained that her job entails “…strategizing, planning, and executing ways for alumni to engage with the school.” She continues to explain, “The main ways we look for people to engage is by volunteering their time, attending offerings that we have virtual or in person, giving is a piece of it but that is not my primary responsibility, that falls under the advancement side of Initiative.” She highlights however how crucial and important the relational aspect of her job is. 

When asked what she would say to the alumni that are concerned about the change and removal of the Legacy Scholarship, she responded with this: 

“I would talk about the price reset and explain that the school has done significant work to reduce the overall cost that would hopefully allow their son or daughter to be able to attend Gordon, even though the Legacy isn’t being celebrated in that exact point in time.” 

She then continued to explain some ways that the school has looked to celebrate the Alumni and their legacy. “Over the last few years, we have worked on making part of orientation to be dedicated to celebrating and honoring our Alumni Legacy Parents.” 

She notes, however, “while it may not seem as significant as a financial reward, we are trying to do more to recognize alumni who are supporting their child’s decision to be here, because in some ways, that’s the best form of engagement.” 

France notes that her role provides her the continued opportunity to be in a learning mindset. Whether it’s planning fiftieth reunions for alumni classes, homecoming events, or meet and greet forums, France attempts to learn as much as she can about the alumni being represented at these events in order to make the events as unique and personal as possible. This is what directly helps build and strengthen relationships in the alumni community. 

When asked about the current relations between alumni and Gordon College, France referenced a survey sent out to the alumni community back in 2017. “That survey was really helpful for us to get a data driven sense of where our alumni are, and it showed that there were some who were younger who were not supportive of the school and that those who were older were very supportive.” 

Notably, much of this division has to do with more polarizing subjects such as President Michael Lindsay taking a conservative stance on LGBTQ+ rights on campus, and the current court case between Gordon College and Margie DeWeese-Boyd. 

However, with a change in Presidential Administration underway for the 2021-2022 academic year, France says, “We are hoping to do another one of those surveys so we can get a sense of has the scene changed for the good, the challenging, what has changed and what do we need to do with that information. That’s my prayer and what I hope for the future but right now it’s a period of transition for the college and the includes the alumni community.” 

Returning to the financial aspect of the Legacy Scholarship, Daniel O’Connell was asked if we would ever see a return of the scholarship. “It’s important to remember that our legacy students are the reason that we made these decisions. There has always been a debate on whether or not to raise the scholarship. Every year we lay our desires down on the table, and it always gets argued to raise that amount. The topic will definitely come up in discussion this year.” 

With that, there is a promise of hope. One of the biggest things that interviewees mentioned was the need for communication. It is important to know that Gordon wants to hear from their alumni and keep them involved, but also for the alumni to know that they have outlets to reach out to. We often all take for granted that even despite the politics of running a successful institution, we all chose to be a part of this community. While a financial reward may have been lost, the bigger picture is met in the continual growth and presence of the Legacy. There is a need for rehabilitation, but thankfully, Gordon is blessed with faculty and staff that are privy to the needs of our community, are working hard to meet that goal, and are excited for what the future holds.  

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not proport to reflect the opinions or views of the Gordon Review, editorial staff, or its members.

Categories: Student Life

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