College & Workforce Readiness

Selective Colleges Report Gains Enrolling More Low-Income Students

By Catherine Gewertz — December 19, 2018 1 min read
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A group of elite colleges and universities that banded together to bring more lower-income students onto their campuses are reporting modest success. Two years into their project, they’re reporting a 3.5 percent increase in enrolling those students.

The first report of the American Talent Initiative, released this week, shows that the campaign has also boosted the number of participating institutions. It began in December 2016 with 30 colleges and universities, and now 108 have signed onto the project. Seventy-nine, including the entire Ivy League, are private institutions, and 29 are public.

But that’s barely one-third of the institutions eligible to participate in the project. The initiative focuses on the colleges and universities that have a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent or better. About 300 institutions fit that bill.

The initiative focuses deliberately on colleges with good graduation rates. Bringing more students onto these campuses would help ease a dynamic that’s dogged higher education: Lower-income students tend to choose colleges with lower graduation rates, which raises their chances of leaving without degrees.

The central goal of the American Talent Initiative is to bring 50,000 students from low- and moderate-income families onto those 300 campuses by 2025. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, the campaign’s members enrolled an additional 7,291 students who receive federal Pell grants, an increase of 3.5 percent.

If the current 108 members are the only ones that add Pell-eligible students, the campaign won’t reach its goal. It would need the other colleges and universities with good graduation rates to bring large numbers of lower-income students to their campuses as well.

The colleges that have expanded their enrollments of lower-income students are using five key strategies to do that work, according to the ATI report.

They’ve built support for that work at the highest levels: in the president’s office and on the board of trustees. They’re making need-based financial aid a priority, and they’re focusing on supporting students once they’re on campus so they persist in college from year to year.

They’re also working to create new recruiting relationships with high schools and community colleges. And most have expanded the size of their student bodies to make it easier to bring more lower-income students onto campus.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.