American Talent Initiative reports 3.5 percent gain in enrollment of low-income college students

Reflecting on its first two years, the American Talent Initiative (ATI) says that 96 of its participating universities have collectively enrolled an additional 7,291 low-income students, representing a 3.5 percent gain. In a new report, ATI says the coalition has now grown to include 108 top schools, up from 30 in 2016 (Georgetown University was a founding member).

ATI has set a goal of enrolling and graduating 50,000 more low- and middle-income students from the 300 colleges that consistently achieve graduation rates at or above 70 percent by the 2025-26 academic year. The coalition says its early progress “strongly suggests that the goal is within reach.”

Tactics for increasing low-income enrollment

The Wall Street Journal reports that ATI achieved these gains amid a recent nationwide decline in college enrollment among low-income students. While noting that member schools set their own goals and develop their own strategies for increasing socioeconomic diversity on campus, ATI highlights five broadly adopted strategies for improving low-income students’ access and success:

  1. Institutionalizing commitments to socioeconomic diversity through presidential- and board-level leadership
  2. Increasing the size of the student body while sustaining commitments to access and opportunity
  3. Developing pipelines of “nontraditional” students
  4. Prioritizing need-based aid over merit-based aid
  5. Reducing gaps in retention and graduation rates

Looking specifically at the third strategy—enrolling nontraditional student populations—ATI highlights Georgetown University as one of 21 ATI members that have pledged to enroll more transfer students from community colleges. Georgetown, the report says, also has a “longstanding commitment to serving veterans,” another population underrepresented at high-graduation-rate institutions.

Funding ‘the American dream of social mobility’

Bloomberg Philanthropies has provided $4.7 million thus far to support ATI’s organizational costs. Member schools, however, rely on fundraising to provide scholarships and programmatic resources aimed at recruiting, enrolling, and supporting lower-income students.

“The country really needs institutions that are true to the American dream of social mobility, of authentic opportunity,” Chancellor Howard Gillman, of ATI member University California, Irvine, told The Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t need institutions that are there to reproduce privilege.”

“One of the things that’s great about ATI is that the types of institutions that are involved in that effort are very diverse,” Kevin Pitts, vice president for undergraduate affairs at the University of Illinois, told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “So for us to collaborate [with] these institutions to talk about what we can do to help recruit and retain and graduate students is really valuable.”

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