Vassar College joined thirty 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. (Click here for a list of the 30 founding members.) The American Talent Initiative (ATI), 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.
“We know from experience that having talented students from a robust array of backgrounds results in the fullest academic experience and is the best preparation for citizens who will face an increasingly complex world. This world requires leaders and agents of change prepared to collaborate across differences of all kinds,” said Jonathan Chenette, Vassar’s Interim President. “Providing more qualified students with the opportunity to learn and thrive amidst diversity is an initiative that deserves our full support.”
Aiming to welcome more of the 270 institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher over the next few years, the members of the American Talent Initiative 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 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. Today, that degree is more critical than ever, and it’s incumbent upon educational institutions of all types to ensure that talented students from every part of society have access to an excellent education.
Vassar recognizes that America’s top-performing colleges have an important role to play in this effort. Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend these 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 graduating high school class, there are at least 12,500 lower-income young people with outstanding academic credentials who do not enroll in an institution where at least 70 percent of students graduate.
These students have earned the opportunity these schools offer, but 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 US has an opportunity to attend college. 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," 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 coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measureable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.
Catharine 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.”
Member institutions of the American Talent Initiative (http://www.americantalentinitiative.org) 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 (www.aspeninstitute.org/college-excellence) and Ithaka S+R (www.sr.ithaka.org) 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.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.