Good news in higher ed­u­ca­tion

An ini­tia­tive to en­roll more lower-in­come stu­dents in four-year col­leges is find­ing suc­cess.

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS -

EACH YEAR, tens of thou­sands of low­er­in­come high school and com­mu­nity col­lege stu­dents with strong aca­demic cre­den­tials do not ap­ply to in­sti­tu­tions where they could earn the bach­e­lor’s de­gree that is a ticket to bet­ter ca­reers and higher earn­ings. Not only are these stu­dents hurt by the lack of op­por­tu­nity, but the coun­try also loses out when tal­ent goes un­de­vel­oped and cit­i­zens are held back. Con­se­quently, it’s wel­come news that some of the na­tion’s top col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties launched an ef­fort to in­crease en­roll­ment of these un­der­rep­re­sented stu­dents. Even bet­ter is that the ini­tia­tive is show­ing promis­ing signs of early suc­cess.

Mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Tal­ent Ini­tia­tive (ATI) have in­creased en­roll­ment of stu­dents who re­ceive fed­eral Pell grants by 7,291 since the 2015-2016 school year, ac­cord­ing to an ATI re­port re­leased last month. The gain, while seem­ingly small, is no­table be­cause it re­verses a de­cline in en­roll­ments by lowand mod­er­ate-in­come stu­dents in re­cent years and it puts the ATI on track to reach and even ex­ceed its over­all goal.

What’s been most en­cour­ag­ing is the growth in the ATI from 30 found­ing mem­bers two years ago to 108 schools to­day. The schools all boast six-year grad­u­a­tion rates of at least 70 per­cent and in­clude prom­i­nent lib­eral-arts col­leges, flag­ship state uni­ver­si­ties and ev­ery mem­ber of the Ivy League. The ini­tia­tive is backed by money from Bloomberg Phi­lan­thropies, but the schools, which com­mit to the col­lec­tive goal while also set­ting in­di­vid­ual goals, must raise money for schol­ar­ships and pro­grams that sup­port low- and mod­er­ate-in­come stu­dents.

Of key im­por­tance is the es­tab­lish­ment of so­cioe­co­nomic di­ver­sity as a pri­or­ity of univer­sity lead­er­ship. Among the strate­gies that have proved ef­fec­tive are a shift from merit-based to need-based fi­nan­cial aid and out­reach to com­mu­nity col­lege grad­u­ates and mil­i­tary veter­ans. Some schools have in­creased the size of their stu­dent bod­ies to cre­ate ad­di­tional space for stu­dents who re­ceive Pell grants.

Much work still must be done to bridge the eco­nomic chasm that keeps higher ed­u­ca­tion out of reach for too many Amer­i­cans. So let’s hope the re­port is right in con­clud­ing that the ini­tia­tive “has gal­va­nized mem­bers, sur­faced and shared ef­fec­tive prac­tices, and raised the pro­file of so­cioe­co­nomic di­ver­sity, thereby lay­ing a foun­da­tion for fur­ther progress.”

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