After two years of pandemic-induced delays, Simmons University President Lynn Perry Wooten was formally invested Monday as the institution’s ninth leader and first Black president.
Wooten, who is also a GBH trustee, joined Boston Public Radio to discuss women’s leadership, higher education and her latest book, “Arrive and Thrive.”
She attended an all-girls high school in Philadelphia, followed by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically Black college and received advanced degrees from Duke University and the University of Michigan. It was her high school and college experiences that she say taught her the importance of learning environments specifically tailored to marginalized groups.
“I know the value of a women’s-centered organization,” Wooten said. “My girls’ high days, I knew the power. I went to a historically Black undergrad, which is very similar to a women’s-centered [university], and having those safe spaces from people from underrepresented and under-resourced backgrounds make a difference.”
Yet as the price of college continues to rise alongside a growing student debt crisis, Wooten acknowledged that the financial structure of higher education makes attending university more challenging. Like many other private colleges and universities, a year at Simmons can cost over $60,000 per year without financial aid for undergraduates.
“The expectations have gone through the roof,” Wooten said, pointing to the growing range of amenities and extracurriculars that often make up contemporary college life. “The model was broken, especially for small private colleges like Simmons, who don't get a lot of government funding, who are financing education through our scholarship and endowment for lots of young people.”
Regarding the student debt crisis, Wooten said she would like to see additional ways for students to pay back loans.
“We want people to be successful,” she said. “We have to think of ways to either give them scholarships and financial aid, or ways to pay off their loans. Then you have some programs like if you do public service, but we need more programs like that where people give back to society.”
In addition to leading Simmons University since July 2020, Wooten recently published a book on women’s leadership, “Arrive and Thrive.” Wooten will speak Wednesday at the Simmons Leadership Conference focused on gender parity in leadership, which will feature speakers including gymnast Simone Biles, poet Amanda Gorman and author Brené Brown.
Wooten hopes her book and the conference will help women find success in a wide range of industries.
“We have to talk about resiliency, being authentic, showing up to be your best self, having a vision,” she said. “We know that men don't think women have a vision in the workplace. And what does it take to have a vision? Courage.”