by Zinta Aistars

Kalamazoo College alumni gathered from New York City and surrounding areas in April, anticipating the arrival of Kalamazoo College President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran. The bright room, orange as if by serendipity, at Zio Ristorante in Manhattan, was flush with conversation and the chatter of catching up: So where are you living and working now? Do you remember Professor So-and-So? Wasn’t that time the best?

It was. Sharing memories, classmates from various years milled around with each other and mulled over their K experiences. All came to attention, however, when the College president arrived. She had an important message to convey to the K community, and she has been carrying it to all the alumni events this year.

"2013 is a very special year for K," President Wilson-Oyelaran began. "It's the 50th anniversary of the K-Plan, which is alive and well. The K-Plan, that wonderful combination of rigorous investigation of the liberal arts--interwoven with  opportunities to learn through career exploration, service learning, international and intercultural engagement, and the senior individualized project--is the foundation for the 'more in four' years that we promise to our students. The K-Plan continues to evolve to meet the needs of each generation of students; however, at its core, it remains the same. It differentiates a Kalamazoo College education from all others."

The President went on to praise the faculty and staff of Kalamazoo College: "What we accomplish at the College would not be possible without the tremendous commitment of our exceptional faculty and staff. K continues to attract an excellent cohort of individuals who work with our students in classrooms and laboratories, playing fields and courts, residence halls, and recital rooms."

Another critical component of success, President Wilson-Oyelaran said, is the young men and women who come to study at Kalamazoo College.

"If you visit the campus today, I believe you will be struck by the degree to which our student body is beginning to reflect the global community in which we live. Some 62 percent of our students are from Michigan and we enroll more students from out of state each year. We have experienced a significant increase in our international student population. Our international students hail from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. We have also improved our domestic student of color diversity. More than 22 percent of K students self-report as domestic students of color.

"The varied perspectives our students bring add an exciting dimension to K’s emphasis on intercultural awareness and global citizenship. By living and learning together, these young men and women will be fully prepared to exercise enlightened leadership in our increasingly interconnected world."

President Wilson-Oyelaran then spoke to alumni about Kalamazoo College being one of only 11 colleges and universities, and the only one in Michigan, selected as a finalist in the annual President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. The award is the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to community service. Kalamazoo College was one of 851 institutions competing for the honor, she said.

The President shared with the alumni an update on the growth of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the building and the programs. She told the group about two new faculty chairs—one in economics/business and the other in biology—made possible by the generosity of alumni and friends of the College. She spoke, too, about building projects under way: the recently completed renovation of the athletic fields, and completed conceptual drawings for a fitness and wellness center along with a natatorium.

"We had invested very little in our physical plant, and it caught up with us," she said. "But the campus environment is critical to our students’ experiences in and outside the classroom. Our facilities must support the cultivation of the mind, the body, and the spirit."

A message that President Wilson-Oyelaran is carrying to all alumni events is about the affordability of a Kalamazoo College education.

"There are many myths about student debt," she said. "Let’s consider a few: One is that many students owe more than $100,000
"Our student body is beginning to reflect the global community in which we live."
when they graduate. But according to the Council of Independent Colleges, an important consortium to which K belongs, one-third of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in June 2012 had no student loan debt at all. At K, less than half of our June 2011 graduates had student loan debt compared to the two-thirds nationally. In fact, the average debt of these young men and women was $24,586. That's about $3,000 less than undergraduates at University of Michigan."

The President recited various statistics, holding alumni attention and providing perspective. 

"The student loan default rate for K grads is less than one percent. K graduates pay off their student loans because they are responsible individuals and because they are gainfully employed," she said. "More than 25 percent of Kalamazoo College students come from families of limited financial means. Many are the first in their families to attend college. 

"At K, more than 90 percent of students receive some level of need and/or merit-based financial aid. For many families, this aid brings the cost of a K education down to less than half of our published price. Much of that financial aid comes from generous alumni and other donors, several in this room."

President Wilson-Oyelaran swept her eyes across the room, touching on each person standing before her. "On behalf of current K students and their families, I thank you, our alumni, for paying it forward to the next generation of Hornets. Your support ensures Kalamazoo College remains exceptional, that the best faculty and staff can be recruited, that scholarship support is available, and that the K-Plan is as viable as ever. We truly do more in four years, so our students can do more in a lifetime. And you, our alumni, are a big part of this effort."

Check out the Office of Alumni Relations website for the information on events in your area.

Photo 1 - President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran speaks to alumni in New York City about the K-Plan in its 50th year.
Photo 2 - President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran talks to alumnus Stephen Mohney '76.

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