Amidst college rankings and lists of most beautiful campuses, Vassar’s placement varies from year to year. But there is one list in particular on which Vassar consistently ranks high: accessibility for low-income students. As such, the position of Dean of Admission and Financial Aid is an important one for the College. Since David Borus’ retirement from the position last year, newcomer Art Rodriguez has stepped into the role, where he hopes to continue to provide support for students with financial aid needs.
Indeed, Rodriguez stated that he was drawn to Vassar by the school’s history and continued success as a leader amongst liberal arts colleges.
“I am excited to work with President Hill to support the College’s initiatives to broaden access and make college affordable,” Rodriguez said. “These goals resonate with my own personal values and the work that I have supported at my previous institutions.”
Though Rodriguez is new to Vassar, he arrives with an already impressive array of experiences both in his own studies and at previous jobs.
He attended Carleton College in Northfield, MN as a first-generation student from out of state. There, he studied environmental geochemistry and then attended Harvard, where he earned a Master’s degree in education.
While at Carleton, Rodriguez worked as an intern in the admissions and multicultural offices, where he says he learned much about reaching out to prospective students and connecting with them through shared experiences.
“I learned from my experiences in admissions and multicultural affairs that a student’s time in college is directly tied to what they expect to be a part of and how they can grow in that environment. This underscores my thinking about admissions and the role I see myself having at Vassar,” he said.
Prior to his new position at the College, Rodriguez accumulated 16 years of experience in higher education.
He spent two years at his alma mater, Carleton College, as Director of Multicultural Affairs, where he specialized in assisting students historically denied an education at elite colleges.
“In that role, I worked to support students of color academically and personally, and provided programs and other services to support their success at Carleton,” he said.
More recently, though, Rodriguez has left a 14-year position at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. Pomona is an undergraduate liberal arts college with an enrollment of about 1,600 students.
There, he acted as the Senior Associate Dean and Director of Admissions. He said his work there was not only in overseeing the day-to-day tasks of the office, but in supporting the enrollment goals of the College and shaping the incoming classes.
Rodriguez remarked that he has worked in environments where students from many different backgrounds and experiences could come together, share experiences and find ways to navigate a new, and sometimes very different environment. Those experiences are highly valued at Vassar, where an accessible education has become a priority in recent years. A new facet of this mission was realized last year, when the College initiated the Posse program at Vassar in an effort to integrate veterans into the higher education system.
Vassar has also incorporated programming for low-income and first-generation students through the Transitions program, in which selected students are welcomed to campus a few days before freshmen orientation to build a support network with other students, learn more about Vassar and attend a mock class. The program was designed in large part by Assistant Dean and Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa.
Transitions has been running for four years, and recently received acclaim from President Obama, who praised Vassar’s commitment to making college education at an elite college accessible to students from low-income families. In response to Obama’s comments, Inoa reflected on the longitudinal aspect of the program, which he considered to be the most important. “We wanted to make sure that students not only survived Vassar, but thrived while they were here,” said Inoa, “and that they built the kind of relationships that helps students along” (President Obama Recognizes Vassar College. 1.16.14).
Additionally, another group of students coming from a range of backgrounds, international students, takes part in a program designed to help them adjust to the College. The students were welcomed to campus a few days prior to the remainder of new students for additional programming designed to make the transition into life at Vassar smoother.
Rodriguez’s goals concerning Vassar’s admissions processes align well with the programs already in place for students once they are admitted and matriculated.
“I’m eager to support the efforts that have already been established at increasing diversity on campus and broadening our recruitment efforts,” he said.
Rodriguez is interested in seeing that the College continues to meet its enrollment goals by building an admissions and financial aid process that can adapt to the United States’ changing demographics as well as accommodate the increased interest that international students have in attending Vassar.
Before student enrollment is the work integral to the Admissions offices: the college application and selection process.
Rodriguez said he hopes to serve as a voice in the admissions process that emphasizes the importance of finding the right fit for each prospective student, regardless of rankings or reputation.
He is already experiencing the unique components of the Vassar experience that create such a magnetizing pull for prospective college students.
“I already recognize that Vassar’s location in the Hudson River Valley and access to New York are key features that attract students to the College,” Rodriguez noted.
He went on to acknowledge that the College’s flexible curriculum and multidisciplinary programs are strengths that resonate with prospective students as well as the impressive faculty that supports that curriculum.
Rodriguez’s experiences in college admissions over the years have taught him to value his role as an educational administrator and to appreciate the value of a liberal arts education.
Following Borus, who served as Vassar’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid for 18 years, Rodriguez hopes to build on the work Borus accomplished during his impressive tenure at Vassar, which he believes has helped make a name for the College.
Said Rodriguez, “[Borus] saw the College through great changes: increases in applications, a return to need-blind admissions, greater diversity at the College and a stronger academic profile for each enrolling class. His efforts have helped establish Vassar’s reputation as a preeminent liberal arts college.”
This reputation has most recently been upheld in a New York Times article featuring a detailed list of the most economically diverse top colleges. Vassar placed first on the list, which was compiled based on the schools’ endowments per student, the percentage of freshmen receiving Federal Pell Grants, and the net price of attendance for families (“Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor,” New York Times 9.8.14).
Other schools near the top included U.N.C. Chapel Hill, Smith College and Grinnell College. The article noted that for Vassar, approximately 23 percent of incoming freshman received Pell Grants, indicating that their socioeconomic status places them in the bottom 40 percent of income distribution, a number that has steadily increased in the past five years.
Consequently, the example set by Borus, Inoa and others has placed Vassar in the national conversation about financial accessibility.
While some might be intimidated by the expectations set before them in such a situation, Rodriguez has established his first year as one to learn and improve upon policies that have already been set in place by his new coworkers.
Rodriguez said, “I look forward to this upcoming year, as I see it as an opportunity to learn, because there is so much that Vassar has to offer.”