Westmont Magazine Thanks be to God
By President Stan D. Gaede ’69
As I’m writing this, I’m watching a family of pheasants outside my window. They’re hunting, I think. Looking for a little food. But looking as beautiful and elegant as ever. I’ve watched that scene — or a version thereof — at least a thousand times since I was a boy. But I never get tired of it. Some things bear repeating.
And that’s how I feel about the year that we have just gone through at Westmont. You’ll find evidence of it among the pages of this magazine. But in all honesty, when taken as a whole, it’s one of the most remarkable years that I’ve ever seen. I told our alums at Homecoming that I can say something I don’t think any other college president can say. At least, not that I know of. And perhaps it bears repeating, as well.
It starts in the admissions office, where we have recruited one of the most extraordinary classes in our history. That’s because applications went up about 13 percent this year, following a 27 percent increase the year before. This means we had nearly 2,100 applicants for about 400 spots. The demand for a Westmont education is growing. And so is the depth and quality of our student body.
And they are becoming more diverse, these students. Not in “commitments.” They are as committed to our mission as any students I’ve seen. But they come from different backgrounds, with a variety of experiences. And over the last four years, diversity at Westmont has increased from 15 percent to 26 percent of the current freshman class. And from my perspective, it’s beautiful.
And these students — in all their quality and depth of experience — are staying. Our retention rate last year jumped to 94 percent. That is, 94 percent of those students eligible to return did so. That’s an all-time high and a substantial gain over the last decade or so. Part of this is due to the quality of students coming in; there’s a good match between what we have and what they’re looking for. But a good deal of it comes from our faculty and staff, who are providing an exceptional education. Our students know it. And they want to stay.
All of this is supported, of course, by friends and alumni who love this college. And perhaps one of the most encouraging statistics relates to the area of alumni giving: In the last eight years, the percentage of alums giving back to the college has grown from 18 to 37 percent. That’s a remarkable number, but it is exceeded by this: Last year our graduating seniors had a giving rate of more than 60 percent. And most of them are in debt! But we all are, are we not? We have been given what we don’t deserve. And so it’s a joy to give back.
Finally, and not surprisingly, our overall giving is at a record high. Maybe the most extraordinary statistic relates to the college’s endowment. Four years ago, our total endowment was at $15 million. Today, it stands at over $60 million, quadrupling in just four years. That’s astounding, from any perspective. And it resulted from a successful capital campaign four years ago, plus exceptional investment on the part of our trustees, some surprising estate gifts, and a variety of other gifts for the purpose of improving our programs and providing scholarships to students.
But that’s not the best part of the story. The most wonderful thing I can report is that Jesus Christ is Lord at Westmont. That was the point of my talk at Homecoming. And that’s the point of the college, as well. These things happened for one reason and one reason only: because God is good. And He decided, for whatever reason, to bless this college that He put together in the first place. He has done that through faithful friends and alums. He has done it through faculty and staff. And He has done it through parents and students — year after year after year. Like every other college and university, we have our challenges. And we have miles to go before we sleep. But let us not forget from whence we have come. And from Whom. Thanks be to God.