Poughkeepsie, NY -- The Board of Trustees of Vassar College announced today that President Catharine Hill will conclude her presidency at the end of her current term on June 30, 2017. Her departure will mark the end of 11 years of transformative leadership at Vassar.
“President Hill is an exceptional leader. She has shown this time and again over the course of her presidency, as she has worked in partnership with the board, and with our faculty, students, staff, graduates, and parents,” said Board of Trustees chair William Plapinger. “She led the college through and out of the global financial crisis; she has been an unwavering national leader for socioeconomic diversity on campus and the admission of veterans; she has overseen major campus improvements including an extensive upgrade of science facilities; and she is a tireless advocate for Vassar and its needs, helping to raise more than half a billion dollars.”
“Cappy Hill is also an extraordinary person, a characterization that is heard across all quarters of the college and beyond,” continued Plapinger. “A collaborative and thoughtful leader and educator, she has been my colleague and my friend. Although we have more than a year of work together yet ahead, my board colleagues and I will miss her greatly.”
President Hill and the board established the June 2017 completion date as a part of her current contract, agreed upon in December 2012. Announcing this now is necessary to provide adequate time for the search process for the next president to be put in place this spring in accordance with the college’s Governance, and to proceed during the course of the next academic year. The new president is expected to be appointed to begin July 2017.
“As I consider my presidency at this wonderful college, I think in terms of the individuals I have come to know – our amazing students, talented and hard-working faculty and staff, alumnae and alumni accomplished in every field, and dedicated board colleagues. I am so proud of what they have been able to do, and what we have achieved together. And I look forward to the ongoing work that will continue to ensure Vassar’s place as a leader in higher education,” said President Hill.
LEADERSHIP IN SOCIOECONOMIC DIVERSITY
Since assuming her role at Vassar in 2006, President Hill, a noted higher education economist whose work focuses on access and affordability for talented, low-income students, has led the college’s shift to a far more diverse institution. No aspect of the campus has been more dramatically changed than the socioeconomic diversity of the student body.
Vassar provides financial aid to its students strictly on the basis of their financial need, and approximately 60 percent of its current students receive some scholarship aid, up from less than 50 percent when President Hill began her tenure. Nearly 25 percent of Vassar’s current first-year students are eligible for a federal Pell grant; the percentage of students enrolled at Vassar who are eligible for a Pell grant has risen by 11 percentage points since 2008 – more than any other college ranked “most competitive” by Barron’s Profile of American Colleges. More than 20 percent of all Vassar students receive Pell grants, a doubling of low-income students from a decade ago. [Pell grants are available to students whose annual family income is $40,000 or less.]
In the first two editions of the New York Times College Access Index measuring the most economically diverse top colleges and universities (published in 2014 and 2015), Vassar placed at the top of the list for private colleges.
In recognition of Vassar’s efforts to attract and graduate low-income students, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awarded the college its inaugural $1 million Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence. The Cooke Prize is the largest award in the nation recognizing a college making strides in enrolling low-income students and supporting them to successful graduation. At the time it was awarded, the foundation’s executive director Harold O. Levy said, “We need to find solutions to the issue of a lack of socioeconomic diversity on our competitive college campuses, and to stop wasting the talent and potential of high-ability students who could be making great contributions to this country if only they were afforded the opportunities of their wealthier peers. We hope this prize will encourage other institutions to follow Vassar’s strong leadership in creating college access and success initiatives.”
Racial diversity has also grown significantly during Hill’s presidency, with the percentage of students of color in the student body currently at more than 35 percent. Enrollment of “first generation” students – the first in their family to attend college – has also steadily increased, with between 70 and 100 in each of Vassar’s recent first-year classes.
ACCESS FOR VETERANS
Through President Hill’s efforts, Vassar also has been in the forefront of increasing the number of veterans at selective colleges and universities. Recognizing that very few veterans were considering selective schools among their options, in 2012 she brought the idea of a veterans program to The Posse Foundation, an organization that is best known for recruiting and supporting public high school students of extraordinary academic and leadership potential to attend selective colleges in “posse” cohorts of ten students per class. Together, Vassar and Posse developed the first-of-its-kind Posse Veterans Program, which now also includes Wesleyan University and Dartmouth College. In November 2013, the Posse Veterans Program received a $1.2 million Global Impact Award from Google.
FUNDRAISING FOR CAMPUS PRIORITIES
From 2006 to its successful completion in 2013, President Hill oversaw a $430 million fundraising campaign, which exceeded its goal by more than $30 million. The initiative raised funds for financial aid, the academic program, Vassar’s annual fund, and capital improvements, including a major new science center. The recently completed Bridge for Laboratory Sciences, an 80,000 square-foot multidisciplinary center, opened last month, and is the centerpiece of the Integrated Science Commons, which includes three significant and neighboring campus buildings, all renovated since 2013. In addition, under President Hill’s leadership the college has completed other significant renovations, including Swift Hall, home to the college’s distinguished history department, and the historic Wimpfheimer Nursery School, an early childhood education center and laboratory. Moreover, a master planning process that will guide the improvement of campus facilities into the next decade is nearing completion.
NATIONAL LEADER ON COLLEGE ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY
President Hill is a leader in the national discourse on college access and affordability. A prolific writer and speaker, her opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Business Week, and USA Today. Among her many recent public appearances, she joined economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman for the keynote discussion of “Income Inequality in Higher Education” at the 2015 American Council on Education’s annual meeting of college presidents and other senior higher education officials. She was also the keynote speaker at the 2015 Education Writers Association National Seminar, where she discussed the costs of higher education and Vassar’s efforts to make college more affordable and equitable.
President Hill’s leadership on these issues also led Washington Monthly to recognize her in 2015 as one of “America’s Ten Most Innovative College Presidents.”
Prior to accepting the Vassar presidency, President Hill served seven years as the provost of Williams College, where she had chief academic and financial officer responsibilities. She originally joined the economics faculty at Williams in 1985. She and her family lived from 1994–1997 in the Republic of Zambia, where she was the fiscal/trade advisor to and then head of the Harvard Institute for International Development’s Project on Macroeconomic Reform, working in the Ministry of Finance and with the Bank of Zambia. In her earlier career she worked for the World Bank, and the Fiscal Analysis Division of the U. S. Congressional Budget Office.
She graduated summa cum laude from Williams College, and also earned B.A. and M.A. degrees at Brasenose College, Oxford University, with first class honors in politics, philosophy and economics. She completed her Ph.D. in economics at Yale University.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.