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News > AFAI Stories > “A full-circle story” about educational equity

“A full-circle story” about educational equity

Arcadia's commitment to first-generation students inspires a Chairman's scholarship gift
"Arcadia...has the right spirit and heart."
"Arcadia...has the right spirit and heart."

“Arcadia does a lot of good,” says John Rollins, Chairman of the university’s board of trustees. “It has the right spirit and heart.”

As a prime example, Rollins points to Arcadia’s commitment to equity in higher education, a core institutional value since the university’s earliest days. From its inception, the university has provided pathways to education for women.  The 19th century was a time when few were afforded the opportunity to even go to college.

“We have that same kind of commitment to first-generation students who see [higher education] as a path for their children to do better in life,” Rollins explains. “It’s a full-circle story about the commitment of the institution to make education available equitably.”

But, Rollins adds, equity in education is challenged when students are unable to afford what Arcadia can offer. To help Arcadia remain accessible to the best students regardless of their family’s financial resources, Rollins and his wife, trustee emerita Theresa Rollins, have recommended a grant from their donor-advised fund in the amount of $50,000 to establish the John D. and Theresa P. Rollins Endowed Scholarship. Through the Arcadia Financial Aid Initiative (AFAI), the resulting scholarship, when fully funded, will total $100,000 and benefit students with financial need.

“I’ve always been struck by [Arcadia students’] earnestness and energy,” says Rollins, who along with Theresa had been supporters of the university’s arts programs before choosing to make their scholarship gift last year. “They’re earnestly pursuing their education, working hard, applying themselves — and they’re having fun at the same time. That energetic spirit is great to see in people at that age, in that setting.”

The Rollins always had an idea of the value of scholarships in higher education, particularly at Arcadia. But it wasn’t until John Rollins joined the board of trustees in 2019 that he fully realized the vital role financial aid resources play not only in keeping Arcadia accessible to talented students regardless of economic status — but also bolstering the institution’s ability to compete with peer institutions for those students.

“[Vice President for Development and Alumni Engagement] Brigette A. Bryant really made it clear to me that a university of Arcadia’s caliber needs a much deeper scholarship capacity,” Rollins says.

Rollins says he and Theresa both view their scholarship gift as a way not only to directly serve Arcadia, but also provide an example to other Arcadia board members and donors who may be considering philanthropic gifts of their own.

“My biggest hope for all of this is to inspire others to participate, that we make people aware of the opportunities for giving and the impact this kind of gift can have on a student, their family, and their potential,” he says. “When you’re a supporter of an institution, and you see a challenge, you want to put your shoulder behind it—and in the process, shine a light down the path that others can follow.”

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