UNC-Chapel Hill has won a $1 million national prize for its success in enrolling and graduating low-income students.
The $1 million Cooke Prize for Excellence in Education Equity was awarded to UNC on Monday by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The Virginia-based foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of promising low-income students. It has awarded $175 million in scholarships since 2000.
UNC said it would use the $1 million, and match it in private dollars, to reach more rural and needy students. About 22 percent of UNC’s undergraduates are eligible for Pell Grants, the federal financial aid program for low-income students. Forty-four percent of UNC students receive financial aid based on need.
The university has a well-known program, called the Carolina Covenant, which provides debt-free financial aid for the poorest students. It admits students on a need-blind basis and graduates students with comparatively low debt.
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“It is this university’s deepest commitment,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said.
UNC is the third higher education institution to win the Cooke Prize. Other recipients have been Vassar College in 2015 and Amherst College in 2016. UNC beat out finalists Brown, Rice and Stanford universities and the University of California, Berkeley.
Chapel Hill is doing an outstanding job admitting and graduating high-achieving, low-income students.
Harold Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
The award was presented by Harold Levy, executive director of the foundation.
“Chapel Hill is doing an outstanding job admitting and graduating high-achieving, low-income students,” Levy said, adding that the university provides “extraordinary” aid that also covers students’ travel, health insurance, books and supplies.
He mentioned two other programs that benefit low-income students – the Chapel Hill-based College Advising Corps, which employs recent graduates as college advisers in high-need high schools, and a program that eases the transfer path to UNC for community college students.
Last year, the Cooke Foundation released a study that showed that just 3 percent of students at top colleges in the United States come from the poorest 25 percent of the nation’s families.