Simpson College president hits ground running with scholarships announcement
Simpson College President Jay Byers announces new scholarship programs for incoming students. (Brooklyn Draisey/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
Simpson College President Jay Byers is riding the momentum of increasing enrollment and new programs and projects to prioritize building brand, community and bright futures.
Byers, well-known as the president and CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, was announced Simpson’s new president in July. In the months since, he has gotten reacclimated to campus, having attended Simpson, been a board member and taught classes at the college.
He’s also met with members of the campus community and Indianola, where the college is based. Having welcomed the largest class in five years to campus last week, the president said he’s ready to bring the college to new heights.
“There’s a lot of momentum that’s happening on campus right now,” Byers said. “It’s a great time to start.”
All-in for Iowa and Simpson students
Byers, alongside Vice President for Enrollment Leigh Mlodzik, announced two new full-tuition scholarship programs Thursday morning, saying they will ensure more Iowans will find Simpson to be an accessible avenue to a quality education.
Simpson’s $100K Promise will provide full-tuition scholarships to admitted students whose family’s adjusted household income is $100,000 or less. It expands upon the college’s previous promise program, which capped incomes at $60,000.
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The 99 County Full-Tuition will provide a full-tuition scholarship to one student from each of Iowa’s 99 counties, based on financial need and academic merit. Students will be chosen by committee and notified in March.
First-year students and transfers who have applied for the FAFSA and been deemed eligible for federal aid will be eligible for the scholarships starting in fall 2024. They must live on-campus and have a meal plan.
“Obviously we expect this effort is going to generate a lot of interest in previously untapped markets for Simpson College,” Byers said. “Together the full-tuition scholarship programs are going to open more doors to educational dreams than ever before. They’re game changers.”
Almost three-quarters of Simpson students are Iowans, Mlodzik said, and if the 100K Promise scholarship had been available this year, close to half of entering students would qualify. A combination of federal and state grants and Simpson scholarship funds are going to fund both programs.
“I’ve been in higher ed a long time and I’ve never seen a combination of scholarship programs as bold and comprehensive as what we’re offering at Simpson,” Mlodzik said. “This is a market-setting package of full-tuition programs that goes well beyond the extra mile ensuring that many more Iowa students benefit from an exceptional Simpson education.”
A position of strength
Enrollment at Simpson is up 11% this year, with 381 first-year and transfer students having started this fall. Incoming students are moving from 29 states and have an average 3.6 grade-point average. Almost one quarter are students of color.
More than 1,100 students attend the university in total.
Simpson laid off 23 staff and faculty members in 2018 as it eliminated French and German majors and cut the art department, The Des Moines Register reported. The layoffs cut around 20% of faculty positions that year. That was before the pandemic shut down campuses across the state.
Since then fundraising efforts have been successful, with the college raising more than $5 million last year — a 23% increase from the previous year. Forbes, which grades colleges and universities across the U.S. based on their finances, gave Simpson a D in 2022. Its 2023 report, released in April, gave the college an A-.
These successes have brought a certain energy to campus, Byers said, that have bolstered Simpson against national trends that concern many in higher education. From cybersecurity to COVID-19, Byers said the college is well-prepared to handle what comes its way.
“As I’ve been telling our team here at Simpson, I love the fact that we’re driving a speedboat and not a big barge,” Byers said in an interview. “Because if we take care of business, what we need to do, it doesn’t really matter what the big picture trends are. We just need to have our plan and be successful with it. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and we’re going to continue to get better at that.”
One of Byers’s goals is to better tell the Simpson story, and to have it reach a wider audience. Part of the process there is building and maintaining relationships, and also includes utilizing social media and other avenues to provide information on what the college is doing.
In terms of creating a better future for Simpson, Byers said he’s sticking to the college’s strategic plan and its focuses on recruitment, retention and resources. Building on infrastructure plans and investments is also an important aspect of making the college desirable for future students.
Some campus buildings are receiving updates, including Kresge Residence Hall, athletics facilities and Dunn Library. The $10.5 million library renovation project broke ground in May 2022, and will house the college’s teacher education program.
“Our goal is to make some sense a national model of success for small private college,” Byers said.
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