Giving graduate students the chance to focus on their fields and reach their potential can make it possible for them to change the world. But it’s a big decision to attend graduate school and delay getting a productive job, often for five or more years.

MIT continues to attract and support the world’s top students, but it’s an increasing challenge. Over the years, there’s been a decrease in the percentage of federal funding for graduate education, and simultaneously, the cost of housing and education is going up. Also, because other top universities can present students with attractive offers of tuition, housing, and stipends, MIT must do the same to stay competitive.

“MIT is a truly great university with absolutely great undergraduate education. But we can’t stay world-class without great graduate education and research, and without the best graduate students in the world,” says Philip Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and chair of the Committee on Graduate Student Funding.

Khoury says an endowed fellowship is a permanent source of support. Even when government priorities change or research funds go down, these funds remain available, supporting a long line of recipients and affecting generations of students.

The most prestigious are MIT Presidential Fellowships –– unrestricted grants given to the best candidates in every field for the first year of graduate study. All join the Society of Presidential Fellows for the duration of their MIT studies. Each year the Society inducts about 125 outstanding students, who become part of a group of critical minds to spark cross-disciplinary collaborations.

“I can’t think of anything more important right now that can make a greater difference to the Institute and to the community than graduate fellowships,” Khoury says. “Just like we need funding to recruit the best faculty and to build the best labs, we need graduate funding if we’re going to stay in the game.”