A Game Changer for Financial Aid

Tufts graduates establish Schuler Access Initiative, including a $25 million challenge to Tufts to raise funds for low-income students
Tanya Schuler Sharman and her father, Jack Schuler. The two Tufts graduates establish Schuler Access Initiative, including a $25 million challenge to Tufts to raise funds for low-income students
“We want to give liberal arts colleges and universities the resources they need to bring greater opportunities to students who have such tremendous promise,” said Jack Schuler, here with his daughter Tanya Schuler Sharman. Photo: Ryan Brandoff
September 28, 2021

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Jack Schuler, E62, and his daughter, Tanya Schuler Sharman, E91, believe so strongly in access to higher education that they’re investing $500 million in an ambitious rethink of financial aid.

The Schuler Access Initiative is a matching gift challenge that expands the reach of the Lake Forest, Illinois-based Schuler Education Foundation nationwide. The challenge will boost admissions efforts at Tufts and approximately 19 other highly selective liberal arts colleges over the next 10 years.

The initiative aims to inspire scholarships to support Pell Grant-eligible students and Pell-equivalent students with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and undocumented status who are barred from applying for federal loans or grants and struggle to afford college.

“We want to give liberal arts colleges and universities the resources they need to bring greater opportunities to students who have such tremendous promise,” said Schuler. Students with DACA and undocumented status are brimming with “motivation, aspiration, optimism,” he said. “We should be investing in this population.”

The Schuler Foundation has challenged the Tufts community to raise $25 million in financial aid and will match those gifts up to $25 million. Funds raised by the challenge will allow Tufts to significantly increase the number of first-year students with DACA and undocumented status admitted each year for the next decade. By incentivizing endowed scholarships, the challenge also advances the university’s commitment to broadening access for many years to come.   

“The Schuler Access Initiative is an extraordinary opportunity to expand on our core value of providing access to a Tufts education,” said President Anthony P. Monaco. “It is not just a step in the right direction—it’s a leap forward for students and for higher education—and it is gratifying that Tufts and our generous donors can contribute to that momentum.”

The Schuler Access Initiative builds on a model Schuler and Sharman created in 2001 when they cofounded the Schuler Education Foundation and its flagship student support endeavor, the Schuler Scholar Program. That program has helped more than 1,600 talented first-generation students, students of color, and low-income students from Chicago and Milwaukee get into and succeed at top liberal arts colleges.

Sharman said her family believes that such young people “are smart, capable, hard-working, ambitious students who, when given equal access to opportunities, do great things that benefit our communities.”

Tufts stood out as a great partner for the Schuler Access Initiative, she said, given its commitment to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated need throughout all four years of college. Tufts also has taken a stand in support of students with DACA and undocumented status.

“The Schuler Access Initiative will allow Tufts to open up more seats for these deserving students and push forward the important conversation that liberal arts institutions need to have to close the divide in an unequal society,” Sharman said.

That’s a conviction that Sharman says goes back to Tufts, where she studied at the School of Engineering. She later went on to graduate from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and when the opportunity came to establish a nonprofit with her father, she “jumped at the chance.”  

“I learned valuable problem-solving skills as an engineering student,” she said, “but the Tufts liberal arts experience also gave me a sense of social responsibility that I  garnered from the community of professors, fellow students, and the greater Medford-Somerville population. Working with my father to build the foundation has expanded on what I gained in ways I never could have imagined.”

Her father said he sees commonalities between the courage of his own father, a Swiss immigrant who came to the United States in 1927, and the optimism and drive of today’s families with undocumented status.

Schuler grew up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, where he demonstrated an exceptional aptitude for mathematics and chose Tufts for being an engineering school where he could take liberal arts courses.

“I took as many liberal arts courses as I could,” he said. A vivid memory, he noted, was being awestruck when poet Robert Frost read to his creative writing class. He also enjoyed the camaraderie he found at the fraternity Delta Tau Delta. Those longtime friendships bring him back to the Hill every five years. “When I come  back for  reunions, I feel like I’m going home,” he said.

After graduate school at Stanford, Schuler worked at Texas Instruments and Abbott Laboratories, rising to become president and COO. In 1989, he became a biotech entrepreneur, helping to start several highly successful companies. 

“I’m a lucky guy,” he said. “The companies that I helped start—they’re going right through the roof,” thanks to their pioneering innovations. But he also credits his Tufts education. “It’s where I became who I am.”

Over the past 20 years, Schuler and Sharman have witnessed the return on their investment in young participants in the Schuler Scholar Program, a high percentage of whom go on to earn advanced degrees.

“Many of our scholars couldn’t believe they could even attend top liberal arts colleges across the country before our program—and now they have stethoscopes around their necks,” Schuler said. “I'm sure 10 years from now those who share our vision for the Schuler Access Initiative are going to look at the Tufts students they’ve helped, and say, ‘Wow, look what they're doing now.’”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.