Expanding Access & Opportunity

November 9, 2016

Nicholas School Expands Scholarship Program to Attract Outstanding Students

by Laura Ertel

With the start of the Nicholas
School’s new academic year came the
announcement of a new scholarship
program focusing on development of
environmental leaders.

The Class of 2018 included the first
cadre of Nicholas Scholars: nine
outstanding incoming students who
exemplify the school’s most valued
traits—academic excellence, diverse
life experiences and perspectives, and
environmental leadership potential.

These emerging leaders received
scholarships covering two-thirds of
their tuition, the highest level of
financial aid the school has ever offered.
This was made possible by past and
present Nicholas School donors who
have started or contributed to new
and existing scholarship and financial
aid funds, as well as Nicholas School
Annual Fund supporters.

In addition to scholarship support,
Nicholas Scholars will take part in a
two-year program designed to expand
their understanding and inspire
new perspectives and insights on
environmental leadership.

Guided by a faculty advisor, they
will have opportunities to network
with local environmental leaders and
practitioners and hone their personal
leadership potential.


Every year, the Nicholas School’s
admissions team pores over applications
from incredibly bright, accomplished
candidates who dream of coming to
Duke. While the new Nicholas Scholars
program offers great promise and relief
for a few students, for vast majority of
those accepted, the joy of admission is
quickly followed by a question: Can I
actually afford to go to Duke?

Providing a premier interdisciplinary
environmental education is expensive.
The projected tuition or expenditure
for a two-year Master of Environmental
Management or Master of Forestry
degree is nearly $120,000. Joint-degree
students earning a MEM/MBA or
MEM/JD face an even higher tuition
bill. The Nicholas School provides as
much financial aid as possible—85
percent of our students receive some
level of support, but it’s clear more is

The school admits students on a
“need-blind” basis, but is not yet in a
position to meet most students’ entire
demonstrated need.

Those who do choose Nicholas
graduate with an unparalleled education
and access to an extensive alumni
network, but leave with an average debt
of $59,000. That’s a staggering burden,
particularly for those going into careers
in environmental nonprofits and public
service, where the median salary is just

“Our faculty and staff really get to
know our prospective students in the
recruitment process, so when one of
them tells us that he or she desperately
wants to come to Nicholas, but simply
cannot afford it, it’s heartbreaking,”
says Nicholas School Interim Dean
Jeff Vincent. “This is someone who
cares deeply about the environment,
and has such potential for leadership
and impact. We have to remove the
financial roadblocks for these emerging
environmental leaders.”


In the final year of the universitywide
Duke Forward Campaign and
beyond, the Nicholas School will focus
on a fundraising initiative aimed at
significantly increasing the school’s
financial aid resources and scholarships
to reduce those difficult decisions and
open doors for talented students.

Over the past year, school leaders
have retooled our scholarship program
in an effort to close the gap between
the cost of attendance and the financial
aid we can offer; reduce student debt
upon graduation; and more successfully
recruit the most outstanding candidates.
But this is only the beginning.

“Increased scholarship support
will significantly ease our students’
financial concerns and allow them to
focus on getting the most out of their
educational experience at Duke,” says
Vincent. “Decreasing student debt will
give our graduates more freedom to
pursue careers where they can make the
greatest impact on our environment.”

Laura Ertel is a freelance writer living in Durham.