Lehigh Joins National Effort to Expand College Access for Lower-income Students

Lehigh has joined 29 other colleges and universities in a new initiative to increase the number of talented lower- and moderate-income students attending the institutions with the highest graduation rates in the United States.

Through the American Talent Initiative (ATI), which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the 30 public and private institutions will seek to enroll and support lower-income students and to conduct research that will help other schools expand opportunities.

The 30 ATI schools (see list below) are among 270 colleges and universities whose six-year graduation rates consistently meet or exceed 70 percent. ATI officials say that research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students (as measured by those receiving federal Pell grants) attend these institutions, they graduate at higher rates and have a better chance of attaining leadership positions in their careers.

ATI’s goal is to enroll and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at these 270 schools by 2025. Currently, according to ATI officials, 12,500 U.S. high school seniors graduate each year with outstanding academic credentials but do not enroll in a college or university with a 70-percent or better graduation rate.

“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,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former mayor of New York City.

“I’m so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves towards that goal. This is a vital first step towards creating a more meritocratic society.”

Lehigh President John D. Simon said he welcomes being part of ATI.

“By participating in this initiative, we affirm our commitment to making a Lehigh education available to students of all financial backgrounds,” said  Simon. “In order to thrive amid today’s challenges, America—and the world—need the talents and skills of all students. Efforts like these not only ensure that our doors are open to talented students from all backgrounds, but they help build a stronger Lehigh and brighter future for all.”

In an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bruce Bunnick, Lehigh’s interim vice provost for undergraduate admissions, said “This is a unique opportunity for a group of institutions to…reach out to historically underrepresented populations.”

About 16 percent of Lehigh’s students receive Pell grants , Bunnick said, adding that he would like to see that number increase to 20 percent.

Colleges and universities participating in the American Talent Initiative will seek to:

•    Recruit students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds;
•    Ensure that admitted low-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective;
•    Prioritize need-based financial aid; and
•    Minimize or eliminate gaps between the graduation rates of students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

ATI’s members will share lessons learned and will publish their progress toward meeting the initiative’s 2025 goal. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two nonprofit organizations coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measurable progress and disseminate knowledge through regular publications.

Catherine Bond Hill, Ithaka S+R managing director and former president of Vassar College, said ATI “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,” said Hill, “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—2,500 in each grade level—will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned.”

The American Talent Initiative is funded with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Participating institutions:

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

Story by Lori Friedman

Photo by Christa Neu

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