At Villanova, an inescapable impression strikes anyone walking through campus. At any given time, an onlooker will see Villanova students wearing North Face jackets, Burberry boots or scarves and Louis Vuitton purses. The wealth of the Villanova student body is plainly evident.
Though Villanova is certainly well known for the affluence of its student body, it is not alone. The same expensive handbags, designer jeans and flashy electronics found here are not uncommon on the campuses of other Catholic universities such as Georgetown, Boston College and Notre Dame.
To many, elite Catholic higher education has become synonymous with wealth. Schools founded long ago to serve the poor or immigrant populations now cater to and recruit America’s most gifted and privileged students.
Does this trend of attracting top-tier students detract from the founding purpose of Catholic higher education? St. Joseph’s University professor Gerald Beyer believes so.
“Many Catholic schools seem to have turned their backs on their historical missions to serve immigrants, the working class and Catholics [all once considered economically-disenfranchised members of society],” Beyer said.
Why is this the case? Why has Catholic education at its highest levels become enclaves of affluence?
Another factor at play is a larger trend in higher education to compete for a relatively small number of elite and highly desirable students. Some say this race to attract the best and brightest has led many schools, Villanova included, to stray from it’s mission to educate the poorest and most vulnerable.
But Villanova has made attracting poorer students and improving the affordability of a Villanova degree for those least able to afford it a top priority. Several scholarships are specifically set aside for low-income students, and recently the University has begun outreach programs in several impoverished rural high schools.
Other Catholic institutions have answered the call to serve the poor in other ways. For example, Boston College recently embarked on a fundraising campaign to endow 50 scholarships dedicated to economically disadvantaged students.
There are other ways Villanova fulfills its mission to the poor. No one who has woken up early on a Saturday morning with thousands of their fellow Villanova students for a day of service can claim that Villanova has forgotten its obligations to its community, and no one who has ever applied for the competitive service break trips would ever accuse Villanova students of ignoring the plight of the world around them.
By inviting Dr. Beyer to speak here on campus, Villanova has taken an important step in ensuring that it remains dedicated to the principles upon which it was founded. As a community, we should all continue to work to further the Catholic mission of service to the poor.