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Don’t Let the Sun Set on Perkins Loans

By Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president

The clock is ticking on our nation’s longest-running student loan program.

Without Congressional action, the Perkins Loan Program, which began 57 years ago and provides need-based, low-interest loans to 500,000 low-income college students at some 1,500 colleges and universities each year, will expire Sept. 30.

The Perkins Loan Program is an important piece of our campus-based federal aid model and is  vital to keeping College affordable. The program provides federal funds to colleges and universities in order to offer five percent interest loans of up to $5,500 per year to students. Institutions must match at least 33 percent of the funds appropriated by the federal government.

During the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, lawmakers included a “sunset” date of Sept. 30, 2015 for the Perkins Loan Program. Institutions will be forced to slowly end their Perkins Loan programs and begin returning their federal disbursements from their institutional revolving funds to the U.S. Treasury beginning Oct. 1.

Further threatening the Perkins Loan Grants Program is the “one grant, one loan” policy proposal floating around Capitol Hill. Assuming that the single loan is a version of the Stafford Loan program, which accounted for $77 billion of the $96 billion of federal loans disbursed in 2013-14, a move to “one grant, one loan” would spell the end of the Perkins Loan Program.

While the Perkins Loan Program is on shaky footing, it has garnered support from many legislators, including two close to home. In July, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-25th District) sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce calling on the committee to reauthorize Perkins before the Sept. 30 expiration.

Wrote Slaughter: “Perkins loans provide necessary flexibility to colleges and universities, which can use Perkins loans in conjunction with other forms of financial assistance to help students afford the cost of higher education. Perkins loans also act as a lifeline when unforeseen disruptions, such as a parent’s job loss or student’s inability to work enough hours, jeopardize a student’s ability to pay for college. Because they do not accrue interest while a student is in school and maintain a fixed five percent interest rate when repayment begins, Perkins loans often offer a much more affordable alternative to private student loans. Furthermore, the Perkins Loan Program encourages graduates to serve their country and communities by offering partial or full loan forgiveness to borrowers engaged in various types of public service.”

One of the legislators signing onto the letter was Rep. Tom Reed (R-23rd District). The 23rd district is one of the top recipients of Perkins loans in the country; in the last school year, a total of $21.8 million in Perkins loans were distributed to 10,810 students at 11 schools—including Keuka College— in the 23rd. Reed also signed on to a House resolution introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R-6th, Ind.) that expresses the House of Representative’s support for the Perkins Loan Program.

Private, non-profit colleges such as Keuka College awarded nearly 50 percent of all Perkins loans in 2014-15. However, eliminating the Perkins Loan Program will affect private and public schools alike. Many students will be forced to secure private, higher-interest loans in order to attend college or not attend college at all.

We have heard a lot on the campaign trail about America falling behind its economic competitors. While it is hard to distinguish rhetoric from reality in politics, there is no doubt we must provide more of our citizens with high-level math, science, and literacy skills in order to stay competitive in the global economy. We can’t do that by limiting access to the colleges and universities that teach those skills, which will happen if the Perkins Loan Program is not renewed.

In addition, the failure to reauthorize the program “would eliminate billions of dollars in student aid from the revolving funds that institutions use to disburse Perkins loans,” according to Slaughter. “These revolving funds are what make the Federal Perkins Loan Program self-sustaining, with student loan repayments paying for new loans. The continuation of the program would not cost the government any additional money but its elimination would cost participating colleges and universities millions.”

I commend Reps. Slaughter, Reed, and others for their efforts to keep the program alive. I join them in urging their colleagues to not let the sun set on Perkins loans.

Rethinking First Impressions

American history is full of examples of people whose appearance, background, religion, sex, or race caused other people to discount them at the beginning, but who overcame that underestimation to make important contributions.

So said Dr. Christopher Leahy, professor of history and the 2014-15 Professor of the Year at Keuka College, in his keynote address Tuesday at academic convocation, which marks the official opening of the 2015-16 academic year. The ceremony includes a colorful processional with upperclassman bearing flags from around the world and faculty in regalia lining the sidewalk to Norton Chapel and applauding new students as they enter. This year, a record-setting number of new students experienced this symbolic rite of passage.

In Dr. Leahy’s address, the eight-year faculty veteran challenged students to resist the temptation to discount what someone else might teach them because of “superficial attributes.” He gave two examples from American history of individuals initially underestimated who defied expectations to make an undeniable mark: Al Smith, a NY State Assemblyman and four-term governor, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and one-time Congressional candidate from Mississippi.

New members of the Keuka College Class of 2019.

“People underestimated both Al Smith and Fannie Lou Hamer,” Dr. Leahy contended. “In Smith’s case, his colleagues in the NY State Assembly believed they had nothing to learn from a Bowery Irishman whose accent and (Catholic) religion were suspect. In Hamer’s case, her impoverished background, her race—and her sex—led white Mississippians to doubt her resolve and ability to effect change… Enough people doubted them, or told them they could not succeed, that they might have started to believe it themselves. Yet they did not.”

According to Dr. Leahy, Smith’s lack of formal education and Catholic background garnered condescension from Ivy League-educated legislators from elsewhere in the state, when he first won his Assembly seat in 1903. Yet Smith fought to prove himself, committing legislative bills to memory, sponsoring bills of his own, and leading the commission investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Ultimately, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1917, served four terms and became the first Catholic to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. President in 1928.

The granddaughter of slaves and child to sharecropper parents, Hamer became a vocal activist in the civil rights movement, literally singing hymns to scores of African-Americans riding buses to voter registration stations throughout the state. Famous for the line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer endured an arrest, jail beating and other persecutions to rally African-Americans and white students in the North to support civil rights. Her work helped bring national attention to the Civil Rights Bill championed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In addition to a run for Congress, Hamer also fought to win seats for African-American delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention; stymied in 1964, she succeeded by 1968.

Dr. Leahy even shared a personal instance of underestimation: as a high school sophomore in Baltimore, Leahy complained to a friend after just one class that his new European history teacher, Dr. Dan Allen, was a boring government bureaucrat with a funny accent. But Leahy learned quite a lesson as Dr. Allen—who’d overheard the complaints —dismantled every presumption Leahy made, in the next class and over the course of the year.

Professor of the Year Dr. Christopher Leahy, right, with President Díaz-Herrera.

An embarrassed Leahy was surprised to learn that Dr. Allen had a background in military intelligence with the U.S. Air Force, and spent four years working as the American embassy’s military expert in Czechoslovakia. Further, Dr. Allen was a friend of Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Georgetown University professor who helped shape American policy during the Cold War as Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Allen eventually became one of Leahy’s favorite teachers and inspired him to pursue a doctorate of his own.

Dr. Leahy closed with a 1910 quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that advocates credit be given to the individual who “strives valiantly,” in spite of coming short, “spends himself in a worthy cause;” and who ultimately experiences either the enthusiasms and devotions of high achievement or who “at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’”

Brief remarks to welcome new students were also shared Tuesday by College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera and Alan Ziegler, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees. The president encouraged students that the College will prepare them for the journey of their professional life, particularly through developing individuals who know how to apply digital technology within the context of their respective professions. The College’s Digital Learning@Keuka College (DL@KC) initiative includes a digital studies minor and incorporates digital literacy throughout the curriculum.

“My advice to you, Class of 2019, is to learn as much about this as you can. Learn to read and write code, the new literacy,” Dr. Díaz-Herrera challenged, posing questions aspects of DL@KC could answer within a number of academic majors. “You will learn that you have the power to do amazing things. When you graduate from Keuka College you will have that thread of digital literacy woven through all aspects of your education.”

Click here for more photos from Academic Convocation

Keuka College to Unveil New Turf Field

When Keuka College’s student-athletes arrive for practice, they will lace up their cleats and step on to a bright green field, marked with crisp white, gold, and black lines.

The teams will be among the first to play on the College’s brand new synthetic turf field. Construction on the new facility began in May, and has an anticipated completion date of Aug. 20, just in time for the Fall 2015 sports season. The field, part of the Jephson Community Athletic Complex, features a grey border to outline the playing surface and the signature Keuka College ‘KC’ inlaid at midfield.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Friday, Sept. 4 to mark the grand opening of the turf field. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Following the ceremony, the men’s soccer team take on the Pitt-Bradford Panthers in the Wolfpack’s first game of the 2015-16 season. In addition to the men’s soccer team, the turf field will be used by the College’s women’s soccer squad, men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, and the new field hockey team, whose first home game is Sunday, Sept. 6 at 1 p.m. vs. Ramapo (N.J.) College.

The addition of the turf field is just one part of the College’s on-going long-range strategic plan (LRSP), and will enhance the experience of the College’s student-athletes while helping with enrollment and retention. It also will attract more students to campus by increasing the number of sports offered. The debut of the field hockey team this fall, the 19th sport offered at Keuka, would not be possible without a turf field, said Director of Athletics Dave Sweet.

“Varsity athletics and intramurals plays such a big role in our students’ out-of-classroom experience that it has been recognized by the president and our Board of Trustees, so much so that it became part of our strategic plan,” he said.

According to College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, the turf field will help strengthen the caliber of student-athletes we are able to attract to Keuka College.

“The new turf field will also help retain existing student-athletes as we strive to provide them with the best on-campus experience,” he added.

Sweet said that unlike some turf fields, the new Keuka College turf field can be plowed during the winter for snow removal, a feature that will grant student-athletes earlier access to outdoor practice facilities leading up to the start of the spring sports season.

The field will also boast an enhanced sound system, elevated spectator seating, a full-perimeter fence, a shot clock for lacrosse games, and a paved walkway for access to the field.

Additionally, the College’s intramurals program will make use of the turf field, and Sweet said there is the possibility that Penn Yan Academy—which allowed Keuka to use its turf field over the years—will have access to the new field as well.

For photos of the construction, visit

Keuka College Receives More Than $160,000 for Energy Conservation Efforts

Robert Schick, chair of the Keuka College Board of Trustees and president of the Lyons National Bank, will accept a $168,351 check on behalf of the College for energy and conversation measures undertaken in campus facilities. He will accept the check during the College’s June 24 Board of Trustees meeting.

The measures are part of a $4 million campus-wide modernization project that will reduce Keuka College’s environmental impact while increasing the productivity and comfort of students, faculty, staff, and guests to the campus. The upgrades will leverage new technology, including LED lighting and adaptive energy management strategies, and ultimately reduce Keuka College’s operational expenses by more than $6 million over 20 years.

As a result of the project’s plans, the College has earned the $168,351 efficiency rebate provided by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA).

“Environmental sustainability is an important component of Keuka College’s long-range strategic plan,” said Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president of Keuka College. “We are committed to investments in sustainable technologies, and this project will reduce the main campus’ carbon footprint by more than 14 percent each year.”

“The 14 percent reduction is equivalent to 709 metric tons of CO2, the same emitted by more than 79,700 gallons of gasoline,” added Jerry Hiller, vice president for finance and administration.

Keuka College’s leadership team evaluated numerous investment options, ultimately selecting the best blend of financial and technical performance. Funding for the project was obtained through a financing program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development assistance program.

The project will be delivered by Trane and includes new natural gas-fired heating plants to service 12 buildings, several high-efficiency heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) systems, exterior LED lighting, complete renovation of Harrington Hall’s comfort systems and a comprehensive, web-based energy management platform to maximize performance and efficiency.

Murray Receives Keuka College/FLCC Joint Presidential Scholarship

Newark resident Johnathan Murray, assistant director of the One Stop department at Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) in Canandaigua, received the Keuka College/FLCC Joint Presidential Scholarship at a May 1 reception attended by his FLCC colleagues and representatives from Keuka College.

President Díaz-Herrera, Murray and FLCC President Barbara Risser

The Joint Presidential Scholarship gives an FLCC employee the opportunity to pursue a Keuka College degree tuition-free through an Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP) cohort meeting for weekly evening classes at FLCC. When one employee completes the major requirements of his or her degree program, another can apply. Murray will begin a program to earn a Master of Science degree in management (MSM) Aug. 27.

He was selected for the award by Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president of Keuka College, and Dr. Barbara Risser, president of FLCC. Both were on hand during the presentation, when Murray received a standing ovation.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected for the Keuka College/FLCC Joint Presidential Scholarship, and touched by all the support I have received from my friends and colleagues,” said Murray. “Thank you!”

Keuka College partners with several community colleges across upstate New York to offer ASAP courses at each host campus; some of the partner schools also offer the Joint Presidential Scholarship to their employees. At FLCC, the most recent recipient was Jon VanBlargan, a financial aid counselor who received his Keuka College MSM in 2014. Lynn Freid, director of workforce development for FLCC, received the Joint Presidential Scholarship to pursue a Keuka College bachelor’s degree in organizational management, graduating in 2012. In addition, Mike Fisher, registrar/director of the One Stop department and Murray’s supervisor, received his Keuka College MSM in 2010.

Left to right, Mike Fisher, registrar/director of One Stop, Murray, assistant director of One Stop, and Carol Urbatis, vice president for enrollment management at FLCC.

Murray got his start at FLCC as a student aide at the Wayne County Campus Center in 2003. After earning his associate degree from FLCC in 2005 he went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting from Rochester Institute of Technology. In 2005, he also became the evening coordinator of FLCC’s Newark facility. He became a One Stop department specialist for FLCC five years ago, and since December 2011, he has served as the One Stop assistant director. In his free time he enjoys bird-watching, digital photography, cooking and baking with friends.

“My work is an important piece of my life,” said Murray. “I enjoy working in higher education and watching students mature and find their passion. The MSM program at Keuka will permit me to improve upon our service to our students and came highly recommended from my peers who have completed the program before me.”

Leadership and service are core components of Keuka College’s MSM program, which was recently ranked as one of the top 50 MSM programs in the country by The Financial Engineer. Candidates are evaluated for admission based on, among other things, their prior academic experience, volunteer and community service history, and leadership potential.

Keuka College’s MSM program is offered at nearly a dozen partner locations across western New York, including GCC’s Batavia campus. The program features a rigorous accelerated format designed for working professionals, allowing them to earn their degree in 18 months. For more information, visit