The website CollegeNET recently ranked Webster as the best school in the St. Louis area and sixth in the nation on the Social Mobility Index (SMI). The SMI measures the average earning potential of graduates up to five years after their graduation compared to people of a similar background who did not attend college.
Webster President Elizabeth Stroble prides Webster University on its attention to diversity. Webster University’s mission statement includes an effort to provide an “international perspective that fosters dialogue, respect and understanding across boundaries and between peoples.”
Stroble said she fully supports this vision on a personal level as well as an institutional level.
“I feel, as president, my role is to help us live the core values and the vision and mission of the institution,” Stroble said. “If the president and her team don’t live and embrace the values of the institution, particularly the values of diversity and inclusion, it won’t go very far.”
Stroble said her strong belief in diversity and inclusiveness is nothing new; she discovered its importance while growing up in a small town outside of Chicago. She said she was both the first in her family to go to college and the first to be raised outside the southern part of the United States.
“My mother was from Texas, my father was from Tennessee,” Stroble said.
Stroble said that her family was made up of solid, blue-collar workers. Growing up, she said that she experienced many situations where she had been part of a minority.
A history of inclusion
From its beginnings as a private, all-female university in 1915, Webster has continued to expand its inclusiveness. It did so by providing opportunities for students beyond the original demographic of Catholic women. It first opened its doors to men in the 1960s.
The school of education started the Veterans Accelerated Urban Learning for Teachers (VAULT) program in 1968. The program was designed to help people in the service make the transition to become teachers.
“Most of those service members were African American,” Stroble said. “So that was a very early effort for Webster to start reaching out to African American populations.”
Director of Admissions John Messina said a big part of maintaining a diverse student body starts with efforts to locate and recruit a variety of incoming students. The Admissions Department attends and supports the summer diversity and inclusion fairs sponsored by the Missouri Association for College Admissions Counseling (MoACAC), Messina said.
Additionally, Webster offers more than 150 endowed scholarships and 70 annual scholarships.
Associate Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement Nicole Roach said many of these scholarships are designed to assist underrepresented students. She said being an inclusive school is just as important as being a diverse one.
“We don’t want a campus environment where minority students, faculty or staff are just present. We want them to be included in the community, have a voice, and have a sense of belonging,” Roach said.
Learning to accommodate
The results of CollegeNET’s test showed that Webster graduates had a higher chance of making up to 20 times the amount of money as someone who did not attend college.
Similarly, the percentage of ethnic minority or non-white undergraduate students enrolled at Webster was 40 percent in 2015, according to The Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS). Maryville University had a 25 percent minority enrollment, while Fontbonne University had a 29 percent minority enrollment comparatively. The 2016 numbers have not yet been confirmed by IPEDS.
“Forty percent is actually pretty good for a school of this type,” Messina said. “We would probably be at 18 or 19 percent if we didn’t go out and pursue it as much as we do.”
Stroble said Webster continues to expand its inclusivity as other perspectives start to surface. She said that she is beginning to learn more about different gender identities and wants to help the university adapt to accommodate LGBTQ people.
Stroble said that her experiences as a student from a family that did not have a lot of money prompted her to work hard to attain the position she holds today.
“I knew as a kid, I pretty much got the message from teachers and my parents, ‘work hard, get good grades so that you can qualify for a scholarship because that’s how you are going to pay for college,” Stroble said. “I think a whole lot of Webster students are those students. That’s why I feel such a kinship with these students.”