By Yna Davis, Contributing Writer
Due to recent budget cuts to many on-campus programs, the Nitze Scholars Program (NSP) will not be accepting new students to its program for the upcoming semester for the first time since its formation in 2001. The Nitze Scholars Program– named for U.S. Ambassador Paul Nitze, a former member of the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees– has been attracting high-achieving students and potential leaders to St. Mary’s for over a decade, but now the school is faced with the task of finding new ways to recruit high-achievers. Each academic year, the NSP has accepted a select group of about 15 students (comprised of first-years and sophomores) to participate in specialized leadership courses and an international study tour, as well as to receive an academic scholarship. For the upcoming Fall 2014 semester, however, the NSP will not be accepting a cohort of students.
In an email to current Nitze students, Nitze Program Director and Department Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies Michael Taber stated that, in spite of the cuts to acceptance, the program will remain as-is for students currently in the program. Past cuts to the program have resulted in the elimination of the Nitze Senior Fellow Lecture Series, a discontinued membership to the National Collegiate Honors Council, and discontinued attendance at national academic conferences.
These cuts, however, do not seem to be affecting the program much so far. According to the October 2013 Nitze newsletter, the discontinued national conference attendance will be supplemented with more local conferences, which are “more student-focused.” An advisory committee, comprised of faculty members and current Nitze students under the guidance of Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing, will be meeting later in the spring to develop a more in-depth vision for Nitze’s future.
From interviews with current students, who have requested to remain nameless, it appears that the allure of the program depends on the perspectives of the prospective student. According to one current Nitze, “I probably would not have attended St. Mary’s without the program. I was looking at other schools which were more expensive but seemed like they had more opportunities. Nitze was a huge incentive. However, now that I have really gotten to know St. Mary’s, I realize that I could have had a good experience without the Nitze Program. It was just an added incentive.” However, many students who apply but are not accepted to the NSP do attend St. Mary’s anyway. In one such student’s words, “When I was invited to reapply [for my sophomore year], I was not interested–the courses available to me were compelling and challenging enough that I saw no reason to change my plans.”
According to the Nitze student previously quoted, “I don’t think I will be personally affected by the cut in terms of classes or experiences, but it is disappointing that we won’t have a new cohort of Nitzes to join us at our group events.” The incoming first-year portion of this year’s Nitze cohort was already the smallest ever accepted, consisting of only nine students. This number was supplemented by selected sophomores who had stood out during their first year at St. Mary’s, bringing the cohort to eighteen total students.
It is possible that this will prove promising for St. Mary’s potential to continue attracting the type of high-achieving students that Nitze values. If nine qualifying students could be found among students who had already committed to St. Mary’s without the lure of Nitze, it is possible that the College will be able to continue attracting these types of students regardless of the decisions made regarding the NSP’s continuation.