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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Bridging the Gap

From the President's Desk

September 29, 2017

To: The Rensselaer Community
Re: Bridging the Gap

To the wonderful Rensselaer community:

The campaign we will launch with a celebration on Friday, October 13, 2017, will have three pillars:

  1. Bridging the Gap: Creating access and enhancing the student experience;
  2. The Faculty 500: Attracting top faculty talent and empowering world-changing research; and
  3. Building the Third-Century Campus: Modernizing and equipping the Troy campus for its third century.

Leading up to the launch, I will write you a bit about each one—beginning, today, with our efforts to open up, to extend, and to deepen the student experience.

As you know, we do the most important work in the world at Rensselaer, in educating the next generation of technologically savvy leaders in all fields. For nearly 200 years, we have offered a uniquely hands-on, research-intensive, and immersive form of learning, which has readied Rensselaer students to change the world. The cost of such an education, however, has risen dramatically, exceeding the ability of students of modest means to pay for it, as well as our ability, currently, to offer sufficient financial aid.

Overall, the financial need of 43 percent of our undergraduates exceeds the financial aid we are able to offer them. The proportion of students whose financial need is not equaled by financial aid is even higher for those who are underrepresented minorities.

At Rensselaer, we intend to attract the best and the brightest students from all socio-economic backgrounds. And we work hard to create a very diverse community, in terms of gender, ethnicity, geography, and experience, because we are well aware that such diverse communities are most likely to have a transformative impact on the world around them. 

However, we are competing for the very best students with our peer universities, including Ivy League universities whose large endowments allow them to meet the full financial needs of anyone who is accepted. At Rensselaer, the gap between the financial aid we offer and our students’ needs is over $32 million each year.  A major focus of the campaign will be building a student aid endowment that allows us to bridge this gap.

With a larger endowment, more of the best students will be able to attend Rensselaer—and our graduates will be able to pursue their dreams and to change the world, without their trajectories being weighed down by excessive student loan debt.

Another focus of the campaign will be raising the resources for continued leadership in a field in which Rensselaer always has led: pedagogical innovation. In the early 19th century, higher education typically meant listening passively to lectures. At Rensselaer, however, education took the radical form of trips where students could learn to conduct field studies, laboratory experiments conducted by the students themselves, and sending students to the front of the classroom to present what they had invented or discovered.

Today, Rensselaer pedagogical innovations include mixed-reality experiences, gamification, and interaction with artificially intelligent characters; the intellectual adventure and redrawing of the traditional academic calendar we have named The Arch; as well as the merging of living and learning through our CLASS: Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students.

As we go forward, we will draw upon innovations arising out of Rensselaer research in fields such as cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and immersive technologies to create even more transformative teaching and learning experiences.

Our capital campaign, in short, will allow us to draw the best students to Rensselaer—and to offer them the very best possible education, so they can take what we have given them, and change the world.