by Muddy Waters
Financial aid and enrollment management are important topics that I worry are either ignored or misunderstood by many. As a community, it is essential that we share a common understanding of how these issues impact all of us and allow Pike to live up to the high standards it has set for inclusion and social justice. I have heard people say “it is nice that we can help those who may not be able to afford a Pike education have the benefit of the excellent program here.” This statement focuses on “the other” and implies that there is no benefit to me. I want to dispel this myth for two reasons.
The first idea requires a brief explanation of the concept of enrollment management. The term may be relatively new but the concept behind it is not. We have always said that our students are our greatest assets. I often tell the story of a day when the weather delayed faculty from getting to school, and I walked by two classrooms where students had gotten out their books and begun to talk about the homework without a teacher present. While we strive for many types of diversity, one major commonality here is the commitment of our families to education. Peer pressure as a term has a negative connotation for many, but at Pike, it is a very positive force and is behind much of the palpable positive energy here. To maintain that environment, we need to be certain that we enroll students not based on the financial resources of a family, but rather on the gifts a particular student can bring to our school.
At Pike, we are fortunate to have a strong enough applicant pool that we are not forced to accept students who are not able to meet the requirements of our program (which is not the case in all independent schools). In the admission process, we learn about the applicants by looking through a variety of lenses to manage our enrollment in a way to have the most vibrant student body possible. Being surrounded by curious and enthusiastic peers push our students to reach heights that may not otherwise be possible.
The other way in which all students benefit from financial aid and enrollment management is that they become more perceptive thinkers. There has been a good deal of research on the way in which increasing access to education has helped those who had not previously had such access. However, more recently, researchers have been looking at the impact of increased education has on the entire community.
A recent study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education looked at the impact of “stereotype threat” which can be defined as when people worry about confirming negative stereotypes about their group by saying or doing something that others may see as inappropriate. As a member of the dominant, white male culture, I do not often worry about this issue. The notable exception was the training I attended last summer where I was the only white person in the group. I was constantly on alert so as to avoid the negative stereotype of white racism, and it was exhausting. This study went on to say, “Results suggest that the benefits of psychological intervention do not end with the individual. Changed individuals can improve their social environments, and such improvements can benefit others regardless of whether they participated in the intervention.” Thus, by building a community where all are accepted and valued, we all benefit.
In her book, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America, Lani Guinier, professor of Law at Harvard University, writes “Racial Diversity empowers those with dissenting opinions to speak up. One study found that groups that are more diverse provide a more comfortable, safe space for dissenting opinions – of all backgrounds- to voice their differing opinions…. Overall group performance, as well as the performance of white participants in particular, also benefits from diversity. Research has shown that racially diverse pairs of people are more task-focused and engage in a more detailed, in-depth, and accurate discussion with their partner than non-diverse pairs. “
I have seen that same result when boys and girls are mixed for pair sharing in my history class. Given the changing world in which we live, I am firmly convinced that all of our children will be better prepared for their futures if they belong to a community that remains committed to inclusion and values a diversity of opinions and beliefs. My hope is that we continue to focus on enrollment management and the availability of financial aid to allow every child at Pike to reach their full potential.
The Pike School is an independent, coed, day school for Pre-K through ninth grade in Andover, Massachusetts. Visit pikeschool.org to learn more about Pike – and visit our blog for more thought leadership.