Former University Dean Describes Need for Scholarship Support

October 14, 2016

Jerry Robbins spoke at the annual luncheon honoring scholarship recipients and benefectors. Photo by Beth Hall
Jerry Robbins spoke at the annual luncheon honoring scholarship recipients and benefectors. Photo by Beth Hall

When Jerry Robbins was pursuing his master’s degree in educational administration at the University of Arkansas, he hungered for more than knowledge.

“I knew poverty and even hunger – fortunately not for more than relatively short periods of time,” said Robbins, who would eventually become dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. At the time he was dean, Eastern Michigan was the nation’s largest producer of educational personnel, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Robbins was the featured speaker at the annual luncheon Sept. 2 honoring benefactors and scholarship recipients of the College of Education and Health Professions at the U of A. He talked about the importance of contributing to institutions of higher education.

Dean Michael T. Miller commented that Robbins’ speech was moving.

“Jerry really has a way of communicating the importance of sharing what you have and why it is important to consider the welfare of others,” Miller said.

Robbins’ master’s and doctoral degrees are from the U of A, and those early years were not easy, financially. In the latter part of his time in Fayetteville, a part-time job and weekly potluck suppers at a local church helped.

“I was paying for everything myself and, in addition, burning a tremendous amount of gasoline during the academic year in terms of getting to class (from Clinton, Arkansas, and Adrian, Missouri) and back one night a week or one Saturday per week,” he said. “I spent summers in school here in Fayetteville, mostly in un-air conditioned Peabody Hall, with 7:30 a.m. classes because of the heat. There was no point in asking for financial aid, because it didn’t exist for master’s students in educational administration.

“And what I vowed to myself at the time was that, when I was financially able to do so, I would create some sort of financial aid for aspiring school administrators studying at this institution, my alma mater,” Robbins continued. “No one should have to go through what I went through to get a master’s degree in my field. And I’m proud to say that I have established a scholarship for that purpose.  But that’s a drop in the bucket.  I must – and will – do more.  Others need to help, too, even as there is aid and loans that didn’t exist in my time.”

He established the Jerry E. Robbins Endowed Award in 2013 to benefit a master’s student in the educational leadership program who demonstrates financial need.  

Before going to Eastern Michigan University, Robbins had been dean at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Georgia State University. He retired in 2004, after 33 years as an administrator in higher education. Previously, he worked as a mathematics and music teacher in Clinton, Arkansas, a high school principal in Missouri and a department chair at the University of Mississippi.

“My heart has been touched by hundreds of students who, after receiving some sort of scholarship aid through my department or college, have told me ‘this will let me finish,’ or ‘this will pay for books and equipment that I can’t afford,’ ” Robbins recalled. “And even, ‘this will pay the overdue utility bills.’ ”

Public funds can’t cope with the extent of need for financial support for students at all degree levels with the rapidly rising costs of higher education at all institutions, he said. 

“Private philanthropy is needed now, more than ever, if we are going to educate the talent needed in the state of Arkansas and in the nation,” he said. “Every elementary and secondary classroom in Arkansas needs to be staffed with an exceptional teacher – and there aren’t enough of them. Every school building in the state needs to be staffed with exceptional media specialists, counselors, principals, and other professionals – and there aren’t enough of them.  Every school district needs to be staffed with exceptional central office personnel – and there aren’t enough of them.”

The situation is similar, if not worse, in the health professions, Robbins said.

“Vast areas of Arkansas are woefully understaffed with health personnel,” he said. “Every health agency, organization, hospital, and other delivery mechanism that I know of is constantly looking for more and better health care personnel – and there aren’t enough of them.”

To the other benefactors in the room, Robbins said thank you, dig deeper and get others to contribute. His message to the students was congratulations and give back – or “give forward” to the students who will need assistance in the future.

Robbins was one of three winners of the college’s outstanding alumni awards in 2014. His other education honors including winning the AACTE Volunteer Service Award in 2005. He has held many offices in professional associations and led three institutions through six successful reviews by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. He has written extensively about educational leadership and other education topics and done community volunteer work in education and music.

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