Ada Comstock Program


This posts marks the beginning of a series of lengthier discussions around the issue of how Smith is dealing with the recession. For this post, blogger alum opinions were solicited via email. Other comments were taken (with permission) from an online Smith forum. We welcome further comments at

At the beginning of March, Smith College announced cuts to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program as part of the effort to reduce the college’s budget by millions of dollars in response to the troubled economy:

While this blog cannot serve as a comprehensive debate on the subject, we present here a variety of different opinions by alums, some Adas (as noted by the AC before their class year year) and some traditional students.

Mary AC ’06 is deeply disappointed in the cuts to the program, saying, “it has changed my life in ways that I had not even imagined.”

It allowed me to explore avenues of study and a study abroad travel opportunity that the state schools could never have provided. I learned to look at everything from a different perspective, evaluate all aspects of my life in a constructive manner and to broaden my views tremendously. Smith, and more importantly the AC program, believed in me, gave me encouragement and support, and made me believe in myself. Now, I get up each day and in the back of my mind, I think, “how can I continue to be the person that Smith intended me to be?”
I believe that no one can appreciate an education more than those who have dreamed for decades of attending college and as each year passes, that dream is denied. Our children grow up, our marriages break up, and we become those women in the workplace that are no longer the “cute ones.’ We have been so busy working and making a life for others, we got passed by our own consent. We train our supervisors and managers, knowing we will never be one of them if we do not have an education.
—Mary M. Vick AC ’06

But not all Adas feel the same way:

Although I am always grateful for the opportunity the Ada Program gave me, I had mixed feelings at the time. Wouldn’t it have been possible for me to simply be “a Smithie”? Why did I need to be “an Ada”? I would have qualified (or not) for the same financial aid through the government. The only real difference is that Smith called me “full time” at 12 credits, a special dispensation to the often more challenging school-life balance that older students face, and an issue with Smith financial aid. There was no need for this at my community college or my graduate institution, because the real difference there is that ANY student can take as few classes a semester as they desire and as many years to complete their course work as they need. […]

In short, I don’t think the Ada Program is necessary. I would be saddened and outraged, indeed, if Smith announced that they would no longer accept women over the age of 20, but closing the Ada Program isn’t that. Let me be very clear, though, that I think Smith can continue to attract and educate women of all ages, just as they do women of all socio-economic, ethnic, national, religious, etc., backgrounds, without some special “program” to do it. In fact, I think it might be of benefit to non-traditionally-aged students to drop the adjectives and just let them be students. […]

Perhaps the real issue should be that Smith should re-think it’s policy of four-years-and-you’re-out for ALL students. It’s the only TRUE difference in being an Ada, and it seems ridiculous, to me, to assume that the ease of finishing college in four years is dependent on one’s age. Come on. There were 20-year-olds at Smith who faced far greater challenges than I did.

—Angelyn M Zephyr, AC ’05J

A trad alumna weighs in on cutting scholarship aid in general:

It seems totally bizarre to cut scholarship aid to those who need it most! Although I was not an Ada scholar, I did receive a full scholarship from the Fairfield County (CT) Smith Alumnae Association. Naturally, I feel “affiliated” with Ada and other scholarship students. In my day we were only about 25% of the student population, and I like to think we brought a fresh perspective on education to the other 75%-–we were serious about the academic side of Smith, supportive of the nascent Women’s Rights movement that changed all of our lives, and probably went on in greater proportions to contribute well beyond the wife-mother role we seemed destined for in 1960.

—Elizabeth Hanson-Smith Thompson ’64

ada-comstockWhat do you think? Is this a reasonable decision on the part of the college? Do you agree with the cuts?

If you’d like to read more responses, here are some other links:


3 Responses to “Ada Comstock Program”

  1. 1 cosetthetable

    Now, this might just be justification found after the fact, but I think the fact that the applicant pool for the AC program is declining is an important factor in creating a target number.

    Every single applicant accepted to Smith should have something to give to the community as well as the ability to get something from the community. If the applicant pool for Adas is shrinking, in order to fill the same number of Ada spots, the college might be put into the position of accepting students who either take without giving back, or who simply aren’t able to do well in Smith’s environment. That’s not good for Smith or the accepted student.

    All the caveats apply– I’m not sure if the declining applicants was essentially created to justify the argument, I don’t know the inner workings of the admissions office (and how seriously they treat targets). And by treating it as a financial decision rather than a supply/demand decision, they’ve framed the discussion in a way that’s not very advantageous to them. “They’re cutting Adas because it saves them money!” is a lot easier to get up in arms about than “They’re tailoring the size of the Ada program to the size of the demand for the Ada program.” Of course, the fact that they’ve done it this way makes me skeptical that it really is the latter.

  2. 2 Bert Pfeiffer

    I have a problem with any university that does not allow men to enrole it is reverse discrimination.

  3. Anna AC ’78
    I live in a small town in South Africa and am unaware of the events that prompted cuts to the Ada Comstock Scholar program, and links to relevant articles no longer take me to them. The program was a wonderful idea borne in a time when there was money to finance such things and many of us are grateful. However, just as Smith made the decision to finance the program during the good times, it, like any other institutions, must reserve the right to make tough decisions about where to put limited finances during hard times. The argument above about whether Ada’s have lived up to the Smith reputation of giving back to the community is interesting and perhaps should be followed up. Surely, someone can look at the alumnae statistics and see what we are up to and how we fit in to the profile that makes the institution (Smith) proud. I fear we won’t measure up. Many of us weren’t privileged, had children, no husbands and many other factors that make it harder to give back. However, that does not mean that we shouldn’t be showing our gratitude for what we had in a plethora of ways. So, if we are not making the Alma Mater proud… I can’t say it, but I understand it. I know that Smith’s heart has always been in the right place where women are concerned and I believe it still is.

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