Kenneth French ’75 was a talented high school student from the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, looking for a great engineering school. Offered competitive financial aid packages from several universities, he knew he needed to maximize his scholarship potential to be able to attend a top-tier institution. Lehigh gave him the opportunity he needed, and he said the experience impacted his life tremendously. To give others the same chance, Ken and his wife, Vickie, have made a $5 million endowed gift to Lehigh to increase scholarships for students with demonstrated financial need.
“I am repaying a debt. That’s the way I think of it. The school was very generous,” said French, the Roth Family Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. “I could not have gone to a school of Lehigh’s caliber without somebody stepping up and saying, ‘OK, we will pay for this.’”
The Kenneth R. French ’75 and Vickie A. French Endowed Scholarship Fund supports student access and opportunity, which is the top priority of GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. Through the Frenches’ generosity, five students per year will receive scholarships for all four years of their undergraduate study. Preference will be given to first-generation college students who are underrepresented in the undergraduate student body. Ultimately, 20 talented students annually will be awarded scholarships to receive a Lehigh education and will be known as the French Scholars.
“Ken and Vickie have shown their commitment to creating a diverse, vibrant community of the most talented students. We are in deep appreciation for their leadership gift that secures permanent and lasting resources to scholarship and financial aid,” said President John Simon ’19P. “By providing these resources, they are preparing the next generation to lead lives of consequence.”
As a mechanical engineering major at Lehigh, French said he learned how to think analytically and critically--a foundation that has served him throughout his career. After Lehigh, he did machine design at Eastman Kodak and then went back to school for an MBA at the University of Rochester. With the help of scholarships financing most of his graduate education, he went on to earn a Master of Science and a doctorate in finance at Rochester.
A renowned economist and researcher and well-respected academic, French was quoted in a 2014 article in The Wall Street Journal as saying it would be hard to beat the return from his investment in education from Lehigh and Rochester and that it will “take a lifetime to repay the donors” who financed his education. Vickie, who met Ken while earning her bachelor’s degree in business at Moravian College, said the scholarship will allow more students to not have to worry about financing their Lehigh education.
Ken and Vickie won the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) prestigious Humanitarian Leadership Award in 2014. Ken is currently on the IRC’s Board of Overseers and is chairman of the board of directors for the Valpo Surf Project, an organization that mentors underprivileged and at-risk youth.
Meeting the Increasing Need
Today nearly 48 percent of Lehigh students rely on scholarships and financial aid to make their Lehigh experience possible. Historically the university has operated under a need-blind admissions policy, completely setting aside knowledge of a family’s finances and ability to pay when deciding to admit a student. Only about 100 colleges and universities across the country declare themselves to be need blind, placing Lehigh among an exclusive group when it comes to maintaining accessibility and affordability.
“Ken and Vickie’s gift is particularly meaningful to high-achieving, low-income students and their families. It will be instrumental in continuing to attract a greater number of talented students in all socio-economic levels,” said Maria Chrin ’87 ’10P, a member of the Lehigh University Board of Trustees and co-chair of GO: The Campaign for Lehigh.
With future trends on the upcoming student talent pool pointing to more applicants having a greater financial need, coming from new and different regions, and being the first in their families to attend college, gifts such as Ken and Vickie’s are vital for Lehigh to deliver on its promise to fulfill 100 percent of need for achieving students who might not otherwise have considered Lehigh.
“A student’s financial aid package is determined through a combination of university budget support, grants, work study, and financial aid and scholarships provided by alumni and friends,” said Daniel Warner, vice provost for admissions and financial aid. “For the 2018-2019 academic year, almost 28 percent of the nearly $94 million dollars spent from the university budget on financial aid was funded by the return on endowed gifts restricted for financial aid purposes. The French gift forever opens the door to 20 more deserving students.”
The French Connection
In addition to Ken and Vickie’s long-standing generosity to Lehigh in supporting student success, Ken has returned to campus often to share his research and knowledge in finance with faculty and students in the College of Business and Economics. He also was the keynote presenter at the celebration dinner of the 15th anniversary of the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise.
An expert on the behavior of security prices and investment strategies, French is one of the top-cited economists in the world, most notably known for developing the Fama-French Three Factor Model with economist Eugene Fama. The model describes the behavior of stock prices and is used by academics and investors.
French holds or has held leadership positions in professional organizations, has served on editorial boards for many academic journals, and co-authored The Squam Lake Report: Fixing the Financial System. Before joining Dartmouth, he held faculty positions at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and the Yale School of Management.
“It is always a great honor for us in the College of Business and Economics and the Perella Department of Finance when Ken visits the Lehigh campus and presents some of his latest research,” said Paul Brockman, senior associate dean for faculty and research in the College of Business and Economics and professor and Joseph R. Perella and Amy M. Perella Chair in the Perella Department of Finance. “Ken is truly a world-renowned scholar, and faculty members are eager to learn his views on the future trajectory of cutting-edge research. In addition, Ken's reputation within the academic community is a real advantage when we are recruiting outside faculty members to the college."
Looking back at the school he knew as an engineering student more than 40 years ago and as a visiting scholar today, French is confident that a Lehigh education continues to give students the tools they need to maximize their potential.
“Lehigh is a terrific educational institution; whatever they study, Lehigh graduates are prepared to tackle the challenges they will encounter in their career,” he remarked.
--Dawn Thren ’21P