By Tim Linn, Public Relations Specialist, Rockhurst University
More than ever, getting a college degree has become a prerequisite for future financial security and career success.
But higher education costs continue to rise. And those two trends have forced many families and aspiring college students to make tough choices when it comes to making tuition payments.
Last month, Rockhurst University launched a new program in partnership with the Hummel Family Foundation that seeks to help those students who would not otherwise be able to attend Rockhurst. The Hummel Family Scholarship is an annual scholarship program and philanthropic gift plan that could eventually become the largest in University history, with a total of $500,000 awarded to approximately 20 first-time freshman and transfer recipients in its first year of existence.
One of those students, incoming freshman Caleb Lagemann of Blue Springs, MO, said that receiving one of the scholarships represents more than a boost — it will allow him to focus on excelling in class instead of worrying about tuition and expenses.
“When I first got the news that I received the Hummel Scholarship, I was very excited and also really surprised at the amount of [funding],” he said. “The Hummel Scholarship will help me tremendously when paying for college and I am really grateful to the Hummel family for making that possible for me.”
Another student, Natastia Carnes, said she loved Rockhurst when she first visited, but that the Hummel scholarship made the decision to attend a reality.
“After visiting and speaking with others who attend or attended Rockhurst, I found that Rockhurst is a place where I could make my own path to achieve my dreams,” she said. “The Hummel scholarship is what made it possible for me to attend a university where I can follow the path I have set out before me.”
The new scholarship fund at Rockhurst is one of five established through the Hummel Family Foundation, founded by Dr. Robert C. Hummel, co-founder of Animal Health International (one of the largest animal health distributors in the nation), and his wife, Carole. Hummel’s children chose to support higher education institutions that have made a positive impact on their lives. The founder of Rockhurst’s scholarship, Robert C. Hummel II, is a 1993 graduate of the MBA program at Rockhurst’s Helzberg School of Management, and a successful Kansas City, MO area business leader.
The scholarships were founded with a simple goal: "The Hummel family has expressed their hope that that these scholarships will help students in need and provide a path to a better, more fulfilling life,” said Robert C. Hummel II.
Financial support for education does much more than give students peace of mind — it can shape the rest of their lives. Research indicates a significant correlation between economic status and degree attainment. According to the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, only 15 percent of students in the lowest quartile of family income earn a Bachelor’s degree within eight years of their expected high school graduation, compared to 60 percent in the top quartile.
Matt Ellis, Rockhurst's associate vice president of enrollment, noted that similar trends can be seen at Rockhurst and across the country. He said, “When you look at our first- to second-year retention rates, the two biggest factors in students not returning are academic preparedness and unmet financial need."
The Hummel Scholars program is aimed at eliminating affordability from the college-decision making process for top students. It is the main criteria in the application process, though there are other qualifications such as GPA, an essay, and an evaluation of each applicant’s leadership and commitment to service in his/her community.
Ellis said that institutions typically have a range of tools at their disposal to work with students and their families to make affording college feasible. Before the launch of the Hummel Scholarship, there were already a number of similar need- and merit-based programs available, in addition to newer programs like mission grants and Kansas City Scholars (a regional partnership among higher education institutions) and the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation aimed at increasing the number of degree holders in the metropolitan area.
What makes the Hummel Family Scholarship unique is its design — it can plug gaps in existing financial aid and give qualified full-time students the opportunity to finish their degree when the costs of higher education might otherwise put that goal out of reach.
“We had a portfolio of existing scholarships and aid available that do a great job of getting students close to where they need to be,” said Ellis. “Approximately 99 percent of incoming Rockhurst students receive some kind of financial aid. But this gift from the Hummel family is going to serve as a catalyst to move in this direction of providing college for more students who are highly-qualified but have unmet financial needs.”
Jesuit colleges and universities have built a global reputation on offering a value-driven, service-oriented, and rigorous educational experience. But the Jesuit tradition of education is one founded on the idea that education is a form of ministry, something that should be available to as many people as possible. Opening that opportunity to more students is a way to move closer to that mission for the foreseeable future.
“Rockhurst University is extremely proud to be partnering with the Hummel family on this scholarship,” said Rockhurst President Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J. “This unprecedented gift will give generations of future students access to the life-changing opportunities that can come with a degree from a Jesuit institution.”
In the future, Ellis said that he sees the Hummel Scholars becoming a community of their own, the prestige of the award forging a unique connection among recipients. The hope, he said, is that as the number of Hummel Scholar alumni grows, so does their camaraderie and sense of identification as part of a prestigious group.
“I can’t wait to watch how they support each other and take leadership roles,” said Ellis. “I’m really excited to see how this goes as we expand at Rockhurst [and see] how the students transform campus and each other.”