UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and Davidson College have joined an alliance of U.S. universities aiming to boost the number of lower income students at colleges with robust graduation rates.
The effort, called the American Talent Initiative, was announced Tuesday. It is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has pledged an initial $1.7 million for the collaboration of 30 public and private colleges.
The schools say they will expand their own efforts to enroll low- to moderate-income students. They will also conduct research on their work and share data, with an eye to helping other universities improve their practices.
The initiative has a national goal to educate an additional 50,000 lower income students by 2025 at the 270 universities with the best graduation rates. The collaboration is expected to grow beyond the current participating 30 schools.
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“This is a vital first step towards creating a more meritocratic society,” Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former New York mayor, said in a news release announcing the alliance.
The effort concentrates on universities that already have a good track record on graduation rates, because research has shown that when high-achieving poor students enroll in those schools, they’re more likely to graduate. Every year in the U.S., according to the initiative, 12,500 well qualified lower-income students do not enroll in colleges where at least 70 percent of students graduate. They face financial barriers and a lack of information on their higher education options.
Participating colleges have agreed to recruit students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, make financial aid a priority and provide an environment where success is fostered. The initiative will be coordinated by two nonprofit organizations, Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R.
The push comes at a time when U.S. higher education is facing significant demographic changes, including a higher share of low-income, minority and immigrant students.
The three North Carolina schools have taken steps in recent years to improve financial aid and reach out to low-income families.
For example, more than a decade ago, UNC’s Carolina Covenant scholarship was launched for low-income students, and since then, 6,000 have had the chance to graduate without debt. The university recently received a $20 million matching gift challenge from an anonymous donor, with $10 million earmarked for the Carolina Covenant and $10 million for the merit-based Morehead-Cain Scholarships.
Davidson also has a debt free option called the Davidson Trust. Duke this year spent about $136 million on undergraduate financial aid. Last week, the university announced that undocumented students applying to Duke would be evaluated for admission without regard to their family’s ability to pay.