In this age of COVID-19, the only constant has been change. What we know about the virus—how it spreads, how to protect ourselves, what the future might bring—changes almost hourly. As we plan for Cornell’s future, we find ourselves planning not for one likely future, or even for several possible scenarios, but for scenarios within scenarios—while the world around us, and the parameters of our planning, shift like sand.
As we engage in this planning, we are drawing on a set of principles that we established as the pandemic was just taking hold. Specifically, we committed to doing our utmost to care for our students, to safeguard Cornell’s future as a world-class academic institution, to strive to maintain our staffing, and to seek new knowledge, learning from our current circumstances.
The first of those principles—caring for our students—is especially critical. The economic consequences of the pandemic have been devastating to so many in this country and around the world, and our students and their families have not been immune to this devastation. But we remain committed to Cornell’s founding promise: to provide a world-class education to the most talented women and men of every background, whatever their race, religion, or financial means. The premise of this enterprise, as true then as it is now, is that education matters. Those with access to higher education fare, overall, far better in life: they are more financially stable, they are healthier, their lives are longer. They reap, as well, the intangible rewards—of learning to delve deeply, aspire ambitiously, speak fearlessly, and have their voices heard.
Today, Cornell’s commitment—over a century and a half old—to be a university for “any person,” without regard to their ability to pay, and to meet the full financial need of every student, is being tested as never before. We know from experience that each 1 percent increase in unemployment can be expected to add an additional 275 to 300 students to Cornell’s financial aid rolls, as well as to increase the need of students already receiving aid, at an added cost of at least $7.7 million. With a projection of unemployment at 12 percent over pre-pandemic levels, our added costs will top $90 million this coming year, plus an additional $50–$55 million in the two years following. And we are facing these costs at a time when caring for our students also means expanding other forms of support to them—for example, mental health services to enable them to cope with the stresses of the pandemic. Yet we will not waver in our pledge to ensure that all our students have the resources they need to complete their Cornell education.
In these incredibly challenging times, we are turning to those who know best the value of a Cornell education—our alumni—and asking for your help. Whether you are able to give a small gift or a large one, your support will help ensure that the thousands of Cornell students who rely on financial aid will be able to continue and complete their degrees—and that our university will proudly remain for “any person, any study,” today and tomorrow.
— Martha E. Pollack
To give a gift to financial aid, please visit cornel.ly/givingpriorities.