Milestone met: Union College and Schuler Education Foundation combine to raise $42 million to serve more Pell-eligible students

Publication Date

Dr. Estelle Cooke-Sampson ‘74 considers herself fortunate she was able to attend Union College by cobbling together loans, scholarships and grants.

So when she heard about a new partnership between Union College and the Schuler Education Foundation to invest millions to enroll significantly more low-income students, she felt a strong desire to act.

“It behooves us to have a social conscience about how we use the financial resources we have at hand,” said Cooke-Sampson, one of the 100 women in Union College' s first coed class. A radiologist, she retired last year as director of the Women’s Imaging Center at Howard University Hospital.

“I believe in the mission of the Schuler Foundation, and I feel a tremendous sense of honor that Union was chosen as one of the institutions. I think this scholarship opportunity will help toward obtaining equity for all.”

Students doing some wood working

Students in a sculpture class in the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts

Union College President Harris discusses Schuler Access Initiative

Cooke-Sampson, a member of the Union Board of Trustees, is among nearly 200 donors who helped the College reach a remarkable milestone: hitting its $20 million fundraising goal years ahead of schedule. The figure includes 18 trustees who collectively contributed close to $14 million, according to Robert J. Parker Jr., vice president for College Relations. Union received seven gifts/pledges of $1 million or more: Bob ’99 and Lisa Moser; Tom ’88 and Michelle Coleman; Gus ’59 and Susan Davis; Dave ’78 and Denise Breazzano; David ’75 and Joan Henle; Doug ’97 and Kyle Karp; Jana Karp ’99 and Stephen and Jill Karp; and Paul Ginsberg ’84 and Nicole Felton.

By reaching its $20 million goal, the College will receive a $22 million match from the Schuler Foundation for $42 million in scholarship grant funding, which will allow Union to significantly increase the number of Pell-eligible students it serves.

“By making the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity to partner with the Schuler Education Foundation, our generous alumni and friends are ensuring that Union College will become alma mater to even more bright and creative low-income students,” Parker said. “The ripple effect and the lasting good that will result from the Schuler Access Initiative and the generosity we’ve experienced are both humbling and inspiring.”

The College originally planned to raise $20 million over five years.

“I’m excited that we have done it,” said President David R. Harris. He and his wife, Anne, made a gift to establish the Harris Family Endowed Scholarship.

“Not in five years. Not in one year. This community stepped up and said we care so much about creating opportunity, we can achieve this goal in six or seven months. So thank you, Union College, for everything you have done and thank you for everything you will do for students for years to come.”

Union is among the first five schools selected to participate in the Schuler Access Initiative, which aims to enroll more underserved students at the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.

Jack Schuler, co-founder of the Schuler Education Foundation, will spend $500 million over the next 10 years as part of the initiative. He wants to include up to 20 liberal arts schools that will match the funds, for a potential nationwide investment of $1 billion.

“Having Union College meet its match within months of being chosen for the Schuler Access Initiative proves that many donors, trustees and alumni value offering Pell-eligible and undocumented students the opportunity for a strong education,” said Schuler. “It is encouraging to see almost 200 new and existing donors supporting students who have historically proven that they can be successful at a top liberal arts college - and beyond - when given a chance.”

In addition to Union, the other schools chosen to date include Bates College, Carleton College, Kenyon College and Tufts University.

The $42 million for Union will benefit students who qualify for a Pell Grant, the federal program that provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate students. Unlike loans, in the vast majority of cases they do not need to be repaid.

Currently, the College supports an average of 75 students with Pell Grants in every newly-enrolled class. Most Pell Grants are awarded to students with a total family annual income below $20,000.

At Union, Pell students are typically among the highest achieving students in the classroom and are leaders across campus.

Beginning with next fall’s class, the Schuler grants will allow the College to add nine students who are eligible for Pell Grants. Ultimately, the number of Pell Grant students will increase at Union by 13 percent for 40 additional students across all four years.

Student researchers

Adding these exceptional students will transform the campus community.

“We are so excited that our alumni have provided such generous support for the Schuler initiative, allowing us to enroll more Pell eligible students,” said Matt Malatesta ’91, vice president for Admissions, Financial Aid and Enrollment. “Our commitment to meeting the full financial need of our admitted students is critical. This is a huge opportunity for so many great students and good for our college, obviously, but it is important to the country, as well.”

The goals of the Schuler initiative align with a priority of the College’s Strategic Plan to “ensure that students of all economic backgrounds can access and take full advantage of the opportunities Union provides.”

Union is one of the few schools that meets the full financial need of all admitted students. The average need-based scholarship at Union is $40,300. More than half of Union students receive need-based financial scholarship assistance; more than 25 percent receive merit scholarships.

The College has launched a number of initiatives to make Union more affordable for all families.

In 2019, the College expanded the criteria to qualify for scholarship assistance by launching Making U Possible Family Grants. Families making up to $250,000 per year who have an expected family contribution of $90,000 or less will qualify for at least $20,000 in scholarship assistance. Previously, some families at such income levels would qualify for little or no scholarship assistance. These grants will help families who are struggling to meet those contributions plan for their children’s futures and see that a Union education is attainable.

The grants are part of Making U Possible: The Presidential Initiative for Scholarship and Immersive Excellence. Created in 2018, the initiative ensures that talented students from all backgrounds not only can afford a Union education but also are able to take full advantage of opportunities in and out of the classroom. This includes providing financial assistance to participate in terms abroad, mini-terms, internships and pre-orientation programs.

“Pell students are good students on their own merit,” said trustee David J. Breazzano ’78, a longtime benefactor to the College, and a donor to the Schuler initiative. “The only challenge they have is their families are unable to pay the sticker price. We’re giving opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn’t have those opportunities.”

How the Union-Schuler Education Foundation grant program works

Union College is one of the first five colleges or universities to team with the Schuler Education Foundation in a unique fundraising partnership designed to make a liberal arts education possible for more low-income students. Here's how the program works.

  • Union College committed to raising $20 million in cash over a five-period to be placed in an endowment to be used specifically to enroll more Pell-eligible students to the College.
  • The Schuler Foundation pledged to match every dollar raised by Union during that period. Payment from the Schuler Foundation will be made to Union each spring in an amount equal to the amount of cash Union raised in the previous year for the program.
  • Once Union reaches its $20 million goal, the Schuler Foundation has pledged to provide a 10 percent completion bonus match – or an additional $2 million.
  • When completely funded, Union and the Schuler Foundation will have generated $42 million to be used specifically to provide educational opportunities for more Pell-eligible students.
  • Union College reached its commitment goal in January 2022, just seven months after becoming one of the first five colleges or universities to join the Schuler Foundation program, and had received nearly $8 million in cash from donors as of Dec. 31, 2021 for the program, which has been placed in the College’s endowment to help support the program in the long-term. The remaining Schuler gift commitments also will be placed in the endowment as the money is received.
  • As a result of Union’s fund-raising success, the Schuler Foundation will provide its first disbursement to Union this spring, allowing the College to cover the full financial need for an additional nine Pell-eligible students starting this fall.