UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and Davidson College have joined an alliance of U.S. universities aiming to boost the number of low-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 low-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.
“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 low-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 socioeconomic 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.