Homecoming 2016 Reunion & Family Weekend | Webster University

Global Competitiveness & Private Higher Education


Monday, March 28, 2016
Kemper Teaching Excellence Awards, East Academic Building, Webster Groves Campus

Good afternoon and welcome to our annual celebration of the William T. Kemper Teaching Excellence Awards. (Please begin eating your salads.)

Spring is finally here and it is time to celebrate those professors who have been selected for their excellence – excellence that has an impact – teaching ® learning - in the classroom by their students and their peers.

This is also the day we express our gratitude to the William T. Kemper Foundation for your extraordinary generosity and support of quality teaching. 

We are pleased to have you with us today our friends from Commerce Bank and the William T. Kemper Foundation¾

  • David Kemper, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bancshares, Inc. and Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bank.
  • Jenny Hoelzer, Vice President, Manager of Community Relations and Special Events, and Manager of Charitable Contributions Commerce Bank, and
  • Molly Hyland, Director of Community Relations.

Thank you for being here and for your commitment to strengthening Webster’s impact in so many ways.  As many of you know, the Kemper Foundation also supports teaching excellence at Webster through the annual William T. Kemper speaker on Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  In October, we were honored to welcome Bethany Usher, Director of Students as Scholars Initiative at George Mason University.  Dr. Usher’s Kemper Keynote was titled Integrating (and loving) Teaching and Scholarship through Undergraduate Research.  During her day with us, she also conducted a faculty workshop on Designing and Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects, and met with groups of faculty and administrators to discuss best practices on creating an Office of Research at Webster. An exciting step that we are poised to take in the coming year and that builds on a growing investment and accomplishment in supporting undergraduate research.

Our thanks to the Kemper Foundation for helping to make this possible.

Recent years ® reflect on issues of educational policy ® place Webster’s mission and excellence in teaching and learning in context – score cards, rating system.

Today, I want to place smaller and mid-sized private higher education institutions within this picture of Global Competitiveness, a picture that has historically been dominated by large, public, Research 1, universities.  Because understanding the unique contributions of institutions like Webster helps us identify the best places and ways to invest for the future.

Public and Private higher education, who do they serve?

The last comprehensive count of students enrolled in American higher education revealed a total count of 19m – 15m at public universities and

4 million at privates. Who those students are, their debt-levels, their educational results, and the cost/benefit ratio of their education for the American taxpayer may surprise you.

If we look at the demographics of our American population, two things become clear: one is that the number of high school students will fall over the coming decade, particularly here in the Midwest.  Any growth in number of citizens getting baccalaureate degrees will come from the ranks of community college transfers, international undergraduates, and adult degree completers currently in the workplace.

The second is that the racial and ethnic mix of American students is rapidly changing. 

Over the next decade the population of white students will see the steepest declines, while Hispanic student numbers will continue to grow dramatically.

As we look to the future, any success we enjoy in efforts to increase the percent of the American population with degrees and drive social mobility will depend on the ability of American higher education to educate students who today are labelled underserved, nontraditional, first-generation and low-income. 


The conception that smaller private colleges cater solely to students of means is outdated. The reality is that our students come from a wide range of family educational and economic backgrounds.

At Webster 34% of our under graduate students are Pell eligible –meaning that their family’s adjusted gross income is in the range of $50,000 - $75,000 a year. Just under 48% of Webster under graduate students identify as a minority ethnicity.

Nationally, in 2015, among traditional private non-profit and public universities, Webster ranked first in overall minority graduate degrees conferred and first in African American master's degrees.

Webster is the only Missouri institution to be listed among the top 100 for Hispanic/Latino students and for the “all minorities” category.

While Webster’s ethnic and economic diversity is remarkable – it is by no means singular among smaller private institutions of higher education as we will see.

We can see that public non-doctoral institutions, a category that includes community colleges, enroll the lion’s share of first generation and low-income students.  What might surprise you is that private nonprofit universities like Webster University, have the next highest proportion of low-income and first generation students.

You might wonder how it is that private institutions, with higher tuition and higher net cost of attendance, enroll a higher proportion of first generation and low-income students than our public research universities. The answer is financial aid, specifically institutional grants to students.

At Webster for example, 73% of Webster under-graduates receive grants or scholarships.  When I talk about grants and scholarships –these are dollars that are not repaid, they are not loans and do not drive debt. What we are referring to for the most part are donor-funded scholarships.  At Webster, we have 220 distinct donor-sponsored scholarship funds from which we make 670 scholarship awards to students annually.  

 Enrolling students is just the first step.

Our nation’s success in supporting students ability to succeed will depend on our ability to enroll and graduate those students who today are labelled underserved, nontraditional, first-generation and low-income. Students who start from a different point and who thrive within the context of a different set of services and different set of pedagogical approaches than those who have populated our campuses historically.

As it turns out, small private universities retain first generation and low-income students more effectively, and graduate them more efficiently than the public universities.  And they do so at no cost to the state in terms of operating or capital dollars.

The Council of Independent Colleges recently undertook a study of the low-income and first generation student experience across the different sectors of higher education. The different reported experiences of these students at various types of institutions sheds light on why students with diverse needs and backgrounds thrive at small private colleges.

The small class size and lower student-faculty ratios at smaller private colleges allow faculty to employ high-impact, time-intensive strategies that are associated with a rigorous educational experience.  Greater numbers of these students report regularly taking essay exams, having extensive written assignments and participating in study groups outside the classroom.  And, of course, the high impact practices of undergraduate research and study abroad are also important and more present for smaller privates.

These are the components that account for the fact that private higher education has an advantage over public higher education. While students across the board graduate more quickly from private institutions than from public institutions, it is the enriched and personalized academic environment (characterized by positive student-faculty interactions), and rigorous educational experience (characterized by extensive writing requirements) that make the difference for low-income, first generation and otherwise underrepresented students.

You can see clearly how global student experiences support Webster’s specific mission. Our Trustees and our donors believe in this mission and they support our investments there. Our faculty come to us knowing that internationalism is part of all we do and many choose to work at Webster because of this. They appreciate the opportunities and even the expectation that they will spend time teaching or undertaking research abroad and bring that experience with them to the classroom.

Webster study abroad programs have been recognized by the Institute for International Education and US News and World Report for their academic rigor and level of immersion. Webster students study abroad at rates well above the average, and our diversity accounts for the fact that African American students at Webster study abroad at 3 times the national rate-15% of African American students at Webster study abroad in contrast with 5% nationally.  Because a global experience is core to our mission, we backstop risk and invest in it: The World Traveler program pays for airfare for study abroad students, the assurance of one tuition price, growing range of classes at international campuses so that students make progress in their major while studying abroad-these benefits combine to eliminate barriers to study abroad for Webster students.

Of course, students’ safety is our highest priority at all locations, and we knew early on the morning of March 22nd that our student participating in study abroad in Belgium was safe.  For that we are grateful and we recommit to global diversity and inclusion as our core value in a time when engagement with the world is more necessary than ever.  By 2020, we intend to double the number of Webster students studying abroad.

Tellingly, our most recent alumni survey data demonstrate that the vast majority of our students rate study abroad as figuring very significantly in their learning and development. Further, they overwhelmingly indicate that study abroad “enhanced their ability to interact and understand the world”.

This is what it takes to build success for our region and in turn the world. Inspired and talented faculty -like those we honor today and all who join us at this annual celebration- within the context of a culture that values teaching with impact.  

At Webster the Kemper Teaching Excellence Award is emblematic of that culture and it is through your support of what we do best that we continue to thrive and make a difference.

Thank you.  After lunch, Provost Julian Schuster will introduce our award recipients.