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Vanderbilt joins new alliance to expand access and opportunity to higher education for 50,000 talented students from lower-income families

by Dec. 13, 2016, 12:01 AM


Vanderbilt University joined 30 of the nation’s most respected colleges and universities today in a new initiative to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at America’s top-performing undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates.

The American Talent Initiative, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions united in this common goal. They are enhancing their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from each other, and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunity.

“Providing access to a high quality education to every student has been one of Vanderbilt’s core values for decades. In 2009 we significantly enhanced that philosophy through our expanded financial aid program, Opportunity Vanderbilt, which ensures that any undergraduate with demonstrated need can attend and graduate debt-free,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “We, along with many of our partner institutions in the American Talent Initiative, have proven that recruiting and retaining high-achieving, Pell-eligible students raises the quality of the entire institution.

“Through ATI, we are investing not only in individual student or individual university success, but in our collective success and competitiveness as a nation,” Zeppos said.

The initiative focuses on those institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher and aims to welcome more of the 270 institutions that meet that criteria to ATI over the next few years. ATI members have set a goal to attract, enroll and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at those 270 colleges and universities by 2025. In other words, ATI’s goal is to increase and sustain the total number of lower-income students attending these top-performing colleges by 480,000 by 2025.

In the mid-20th century—with the G.I. Bill, the Higher Education Act and Civil Rights Act—the nation invested in and opened access to higher education for its citizens, characterizing a college degree as a path to success. ATI members believe that today that degree is more critical than ever and are taking action to ensure that talented students from every part of society have access to an excellent education.

Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend high quality institutions, they graduate at higher rates, and access to those institutions provides them with a much greater chance of attaining leadership positions and opportunity throughout their lives. Yet in each year, at least 12,500 lower-income young people nationwide graduate with outstanding academic credentials but do not enroll in an institution where at least 70 percent of students graduate.

While these students have the qualifications and achievements to earn admission to these institutions, for a variety of reasons—including a lack of information about their options, confusion about costs, and inadequate financial aid offers—many of them simply lack access. The American Talent Initiative seeks to ensure that these “missing” students have a path to attend and thrive at the institutions with the highest graduation rates and best track records for post-graduate success.

“If we’re serious about promoting social mobility in America, we need to ensure that every qualified high school student in the U.S. has an opportunity to attend college. I’m so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves toward that goal. This is a vital first step toward creating a more meritocratic society,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City.

Colleges and universities participating in the American Talent Initiative will further the national goal of developing more talent from every American neighborhood by:

  • Recruiting students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds through robust outreach;
  • Ensuring that admitted lower-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective;
  • Prioritizing need-based financial aid; and
  • Minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between and among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

Members will share lessons learned as well as institutional data, annually publishing their progress toward meeting the national goal of 50,000 additional lower-income students by 2025. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations managing the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measureable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.

Catherine Bond Hill, Ithaka S+R managing director and former Vassar president, noted that “this initiative speaks to fairness and equal opportunity for thousands of students who currently can’t claim either, and to the enormous societal benefit that comes from nurturing all of our most talented young people. Recent research suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors per year have SAT scores in the top 10 percent with 3.7 grade point averages or higher—and still do not attend the top 270 colleges. If each of these institutions commits to do its share, an additional 50,000 talented students—12,500 in each grade level—will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned.”

ATI member institutions are committing substantial resources to attract, enroll and graduate students at their individual campuses. This initiative is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R and funded with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, convenings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.

Participating Institutions
Amherst College Spelman College
Bates College Stanford University
Davidson College University of California, Berkeley
Dartmouth College University of California, Los Angeles
Duke University University of Maryland, College Park
Franklin & Marshall College University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Georgetown University University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Georgia Institute of Technology University of Richmond
Harvard University University of Texas at Austin
Johns Hopkins University University of Washington
Lehigh University Vanderbilt University
The Ohio State University Vassar College
Pomona College Washington University in St. Louis
Princeton University Williams College
Rice University Yale University