Carnegie Mellon University

May 13, 2014

To the Carnegie Mellon University Community:

I am delighted to write to you today about a new key priority project for the university, the launch of endowed "Presidential Fellowships" for graduate students and "Presidential Scholarships" for undergraduate students. This project is a direct outcome of the numerous suggestions and comments I received from the CMU community during my listening tour. It seeks to address one of the most pressing challenges for CMU as we try to attract the best and the brightest students, as well as attract and retain the faculty who mentor them, amid increasing global competition for talent.

I am particularly pleased to inform you that during the course of the past several months, we have begun this important project by establishing a new permanent endowment pool of about $30 million. This endowment would help us fund many Presidential Fellowships/Scholarships per year in perpetuity. Commitments for these endowment funds have been secured from individual donors, alumni, CMU trustees, CMU faculty and philanthropic organizations. We look forward to announcing the donors and benefactors who have made this project possible at an appropriate opportunity during the course of the next several months.


Our Ph.D. enrollment has increased 35 percent to more than 1,900 in the last decade. However, endowed support for graduate fellowships at CMU currently comes from fewer than 200 donor-designated funds totaling around $70 million. This small pool of funds generates an income of less than $2,000 per Ph.D. student each year. Alternatively, these funds could cover the full annual tuition cost of fewer than 75 Ph.D. students across the entire university. This situation places Carnegie Mellon at a significant competitive disadvantage compared to our peers in attracting gifted students and faculty even to our top-ranked academic programs. This problem is further compounded by the cost of graduate student support, which is currently borne largely by our faculty through increasingly competitive research funding. Adding to the urgency of this issue is the volatile federal funding climate for research. Wealthier peer institutions can provide support for many graduate students from their endowments, thereby reducing the dependence on federal funds for graduate student support and providing greater flexibility to both students and their faculty advisers.

At the undergraduate level, Carnegie Mellon's endowment provides only about 8 percent of the amount needed to fund the financial aid we provide for our students. The rest comes largely from the university's operating budget. These challenges with financial aid result in our students relying more heavily than we would like on student loans. Institutions with endowments significantly larger than ours can compete with more generous scholarship packages, especially for top applicants and those with significant financial need. For Carnegie Mellon, a relatively young university with an academic reputation growing considerably faster than its financial resources, endowed scholarship gifts are vital as we compete to attract the best students.

Support of Students Through New Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships

In order to address this vital need for the university to accomplish its mission and to continue its trajectory of excellence in education, research, innovation and societal impact, I am pleased to announce the launch of the new Presidential Fellowships and Presidential Scholarships. These will be part of a special class of permanently endowed awards that enable us to compete more effectively in recruiting some of the world's most gifted students.

The Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships will have a number of unique and distinguishing features:

  • Presidential Fellows will be selected annually through a process overseen by the provost that invites nominations from the department heads and deans of the schools and colleges at the university. The Office of Undergraduate Admission will orchestrate support for the Presidential Scholars, also with input from the provost and the deans.
  • The designation "Presidential Fellow" or "Presidential Scholar" will recognize the high accomplishments of the students selected for these awards. It will symbolize a record of distinction and the potential for further excellence.
  • These fellowships and scholarships will be appropriately named after donors and benefactors to recognize their generosity and commitment to Carnegie Mellon.
  • Students receiving the Presidential Fellowships and Scholarships, their faculty and staff mentors, and the donors who make these awards possible will be recognized each year in a special campus event hosted on campus by the University President. This event will also highlight the academic work being performed on campus by the Fellows and Scholars.
  • Presidential Fellowships will help increase the academic options for graduate students by allowing their work to transcend traditional academic barriers by affording them the opportunity to explore a range of research areas before selecting their research focus.

Building a significantly greater permanent endowment to provide sustained financial resources for these fellowships and scholarships will remain a priority project for the university for years to come. I am enormously grateful to all those who have made this new substantial endowment for student support possible through their generous contributions.

I look forward to working with all of you as we collectively address one of the most compelling needs facing the university and strengthen our educational and research activities.

As we close out the academic year, my wife, Mary, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank the entire CMU community for the warmth and affection with which you have welcomed us and made our first year at CMU so memorable. We wish you a productive and enjoyable summer.

With my warmest wishes,

Subra Suresh
Carnegie Mellon University