Janet S. and Ronald J. Henry: Banishing a Barrier to Student Success

Which is the most important factor in predicting college success: A) SAT scores, b) high school grades or c) financial resources? If you Said “c,” you’re correct — and just zeroed in on what Janet S. Henry and Ronald J. Henry have known since their own days as students. The Henrys, both career educators and administrators, set up in March a university-wide undergraduate opportunity scholarship to help GSU students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Not only are these students among those who most need funding, Ron Henry says, “but it’s been our experience that these types of funds are the most difficult funds to raise.”

Into this gap stepped the Henrys, who have a long history with higher education in Georgia. He served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Georgia State from 1994 to 2009, and she was vice chancellor for statewide Preschool to College Initiatives for the University System of Georgia.

Their own academic careers never would have happened without outside financial resources. “I was the first in my family to go to college, and growing up in Northern Ireland, most of the students at that time went to university for free,” Ron Henry says. “I was fortunate to come through when I did.” Adds Jan Henry: “I am one of those students, too. I wouldn’t have been able to go if not for student loans and scholarships, because my parents could not have afforded to send me. I’ve lived this.”

Their time in academia taught them that financial need often breeds a deep appetite for achievement. “Many students have it too easy, and if you don’t have that hunger to really succeed, you drop out,” Ron Henry said.

The couple has already seen, through a similar scholarship they support at the University of Florida, the impact this type of giving can make. “Students send us stories about the difference these funds have made in their lives,” Jan Henry says.

“In some cases they have now graduated and have jobs, and they know how proud their family is of them.”

The Henrys’ gift is timely and needed, says Timothy M. Renick, Georgia State’s associate provost for academic programs and chief enrollment officer. “Students who have sufficient funds to cover their educational costs graduate at over three times the rate of those who do not,” Renick points out. “The Henrys contributed greatly to the success of students at Georgia State and in the state of Georgia prior to their retirement. This generous gift to fund student scholarships will help a whole new generation of Georgia State students to realize their dreams.”

The Henrys weren’t looking to publicize their gift until they realized it could be a catalyst for greater awareness. “This is one of the greatest unmet needs in the country for higher education,” Ron Henry says. “We’d be delighted if others gave in our footsteps.”

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424