WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University is planning its first-ever “Founder’s Gala” fundraiser this June, and has tied the event to President Barack Obama’s call for a commitment by institutions nationwide to increase higher education access for low-income families.
According to a list published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wilkes is the only local institution, and one of only eight in Pennsylvania, to commit to the White House initiative officially dubbed “Pipeline to College Opportunities.”
Last week, Obama called for voluntary commitments to programs and plans that would reduce barriers to higher education. Presidents of several colleges that responded with commitments were invited to a meeting at the White House when the president unveiled the initiative.
Wilkes Vice President for Advancement Michael Wood said Wilkes did not send a representative to Washington.
But University President Patrick Leahy “has wanted to do a large gala,” and the school has hoped for sometime “to initiate some fundraising to add scholarships for first generation students.” Wood said tying the two ideas together as a formal commitment to the initiative seemed a natural fit.
The school already offers financial aid based on need and academic achievement, Wood noted, and this would be an added component.
“We are going to set aside these funds — we hope to generate at least $100,000 this year and more as the years go by — to supplement any merit-based or need-based aid if the students are the first in their family to attend college,” Wood said.
Details haven’t been worked out, but Wood said amounts won’t be rigid. “We’re going to look at the whole picture. We’re not going to just create 100 scholarships of $1,000 each,” he said.
A news release notes the money raised at the gala, expected to come primarily from businesses and community leaders, could also be used to expand “existing programs that help first-generation and financially needy students graduate on time.”
“We haven’t broken it up in terms of numbers,” Wood said. “What we’ve decided to do is give the financial aid office and admission staff this separate allocation and let them look at using it on a case-by case basis.”