Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield attended a White House ceremony on Sept. 30, where he received recognition as “a champion of change for college opportunity,” and then participated in a panel discussion about college access with other education leaders.
U.S. Secretary of Education John King paid special recognition to Porterfield for his “talent strategy” in recruiting underserved student populations and said, “Dan has been a hero of mine for a long time.”
“At Franklin & Marshall, to ensure access for low-income students and students of color, is, I think, a national model,” King said. The secretary added that access and opportunity works at F&M because Porterfield approaches it "not as an act of charity, but as an act of talent maximization."
Porterfield was among 11 individuals and one of two four-year college presidents to be named “champions of change” Friday morning at the White House. He and his fellow honorees emerged from "hundreds and hundreds of nominations across the country," according to Kyle Lierman from the White House Office of Public Engagement.
"This award is further recognition of Franklin & Marshall's dynamic leadership in responding to the national imperative to expand educational opportunity for high-achieving students from every sector of society," said Porterfield. "There’s tremendous talent in every zip code—America’s top colleges and universities need to seize opportunities to provide more qualified students with the kind of rigorous education and holistic growth that transforms talented 18-year-olds into leaders."
In the five years that Porterfield has been at F&M, the College has significantly expanded its financial aid budget and transitioned to a fully need-based aid program. F&M enhanced admission outreach and has built pipelines through partnerships with leading K-12 school networks and college-access programs including KIPP, The Posse Program, College Match, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, Noble, College Track, and a network of rural and urban public schools served by the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps.
As a result, F&M has nearly tripled the proportion of Pell Grant recipients—students from low-income backgrounds—from an average of 7 percent of incoming students in 2006-2008 to an average of 19 percent over the past three classes.
"Our talent strategy has strengthened the school academically and in many other ways," Porterfield said. "In each of the past five years, Pell Grant recipients and first-generation college students have had retention rates that are higher than their class as a whole, while earning comparable GPAs. They’re doing high-level research with scholars, leading student organizations, winning national fellowships, entering graduate school or getting great jobs after graduation. And they are graduating— 85 percent of Pell Grant recipients who enrolled in 2010 graduated at F&M, compared to 51 percent nationally. Everybody wins — the students, F&M and society."
When asked if other institutions can follow suit, Porterfield answered emphatically. "Absolutely—F&M is proving the possible," he said. "Like most institutions across the country, we don't have a billion-dollar endowment. We've managed our financial resources strategically, which has allowed us to prioritize recruiting, educating, and launching talent. We've employed a range of strategies that could readily be adopted or adapted by public and private colleges alike, and all our students have benefited."
F&M Board Chair Sue Washburn '73, who attended the White House ceremony, is proud of the national recognition for Franklin & Marshall’s leadership that the award represents.
"A visionary leader like Dan Porterfield is just what we need in education today," Washburn said. "Dan understands the potential for our nation and world if we can tap into the deep talent pool among students from all backgrounds and engage students in a rigorous learning environment. He has succeeded in reframing the approach to student recruitment and academic leadership so that it now champions talent and inclusion. Our Franklin & Marshall Board of Trustees celebrates this recognition with him, and is proud that a college founded by Benjamin Franklin is providing leadership toward the great national imperative of ensuring that talent has the opportunity to rise in America."
College Board President and CEO David Coleman called Porterfield one of the "few true innovators and visionaries in education today. By democratizing who can get into higher education and showing that it can work at a truly great school…I think everyone is watching Franklin & Marshall," he said.
President Barack Obama, who has made expanding higher-education opportunities for students a hallmark of his administration, has said, "If we make sure [our students] remain the best-educated generation in American history, there is no limit to what they can achieve, there’s no limit to what this country can achieve."
The "Champions of Change" recognition is the third time Porterfield has been invited to the White House to address issues of expanded opportunity in higher education.
"I'm grateful to the many members of the F&M community — from our visionary Board of Trustees and supportive investors to our outstanding faculty and dedicated professional staff — who have worked together to create a transformative educational experience for all our students," Porterfield said. "Hopefully, in Pennsylvania and in the country, the coming years will bring more collective focus on educational opportunity, and F&M will be at the table and making a difference."