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Hope College president sets goal for zero tuition

Matthew Scogin cites firsthand experience of large student debt after graduating from Hope.

September 20, 2019
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During his inaugural address, the new Hope College president named free tuition as his top goal.

Matthew Scogin said his objective is to raise enough scholarship money in the endowment to one day completely cover every student’s tuition.

“The opportunity to be transformed by Hope should not be dependent on a family’s net worth or what ZIP code a student grows up in,” Scogin said. “Being transformed by Hope should not come with a price tag.”

Talk of this goal came after Scogin announced an additional $1 million toward new scholarships for the next academic year, the largest increase in Hope’s scholarship offering.

Scogin, a 2002 Hope graduate who took office July 1, has cited the business model of higher education as one of his top focuses.

“The whole world is asking why college has gotten so expensive,” he said. “What if Hope could take the lead in solving that puzzle?”

Scogin said he is taking a hard look at ways Hope can rethink its cost structure but said the “path toward greatness” involves growing.

Scogin acknowledged that achieving the goal of free tuition won’t be easy.

“This is a big ambition,” he said.  “So large that it probably sounds crazy and unachievable.”

He paraphrased former U.S. President John F. Kennedy when he charged the nation with the “seemingly crazy and unachievable mission” of setting foot on the moon.

“We choose this not because it is easy; we choose this because it is hard,” Scogin said. “We accept this challenge because we believe so deeply in the transformative experience that Hope College offers.”

Scogin said his commitment to the goal is reinforced by his firsthand experience with the impact of a Hope education and the challenge of financing college.

He said he grew up in a middle-class family and wouldn’t have been able to afford Hope College without scholarship support. Even with scholarships, he said he graduated with significant student loan debt. This was two decades ago when the price of tuition was less than half of what it is today, he noted.

“To me, this is personal,” he said.

Scogin’s journey after Hope included completing a master’s degree in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; senior positions with the New York Stock Exchange and the U.S. Treasury Department; and, immediately prior to becoming the college’s president, serving as chief administrative officer at the global financial advisory firm of Perella Weinberg Partners in New York City.

Scogin has not laid out a timeframe, strategy or specific dollar goal for his free tuition plan. A spokesperson said he has begun preliminary conversations with leadership about how to move forward.

Along with addressing Hope’s cost as his top priority, Scogin said he hopes to see the college provide leadership in demonstrating the value of a liberal arts education in preparing students for life and work.

“While the pendulum of higher education seems to be shifting toward vocational training, we at Hope believe college is about more than grooming young people for work,” he said.

Besides career preparation, he said Hope teaches how to deal with new experiences and make sense of one’s place in the world.

Scogin cited predictions from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that up to one-third of the workforce will transfer not just to a new job but to a new occupation. He also cited a 2016 study by two Oxford economists estimating that nearly half of U.S. jobs are at risk of being automated within two decades.

“In my view, the rise of automation means the most successful leaders of the future will be those who are especially human,” Scogin said. “As more jobs are automated, employers will more highly value people who bring curiosity, creativity, wit and warmth to the workplace.”

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