After leading Washington University in St. Louis for nearly a quarter century, Chancellor Mark Wrighton is retiring this summer.
Wrighton joined St. Louis Public Radio editor Maria Altman during Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to reflect on his tenure at the institution and looks ahead to a new chapter. Wrighton said that the most rewarding part of his time as chancellor was working along with others to help grow the university.
“Washington University is a great institution and I've been so well rewarded in having opportunities to work with talented people,” he said. “We have a great team and we've done a lot of things together. Working together on the important challenges that any university will face is a part of what makes for a great institution. I feel fortunate to have been able to serve for so long.”
During Wrighton’s time at Wash U, the school has experienced huge growth, both monetarily and physically. Over the past 24 years, Wash U doubled its undergraduate applicants, built over 50 new buildings and increased its endowment by over $5 billion.
But the university has also faced challenges over that time, particularly when dealing with socioeconomic diversity. A couple of years ago a New York Times study found that Wash U had more students from the top one percent of income brackets than from the bottom 60 percent. Wrighton said that one of Wash U’s major goals is to improve on that front, including raising funds to provide resources for more students from low-income families.
“A Pell Grant-eligible student will bring that Pell Grant to support the education, but that's only about $5,500. Our sticker price is much greater. So every Pell Grant-eligible student receives full support from the university for tuition, room and board and we're very proud that we're able now to do that thanks to many generous donors,” he said. “When we talk about physical infrastructure, it's easy to see a building, but it's hard to see immediately the impact of financial aid, but we're transforming lives by supporting these outstanding students.”
Wrighton also looked forward to his next role, campaign chairman for Better Together. He said that he supports the initiative to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County because, he said, the region has lagged behind other cities in the United States, despite improvements in recent years.
“Though our progress is noticeable and significant, other communities are doing much, much better,” he said. “I had occasion to be in Denver for about 10 days in February and that community is abuzz. Young people want to be there, it's an exciting, growing region. Nashville is another city with tremendous momentum and Nashville of course is home to Vanderbilt [University]. And because Nashville is thriving, Vanderbilt is doing better. So I believe we must do something about the stagnation in our region.”
Listen to the full interview:
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