College access strategies that truly ‘open our doors wider’

U.S. colleges and universities have a “tremendous opportunity” to develop and deploy policies that better attract, retain, and support the nation’s growing population of low-income students, first-generation students, nontraditional students, and students of color, says Angel B. Perez, Ph.D., vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Writing in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Perez draws on his experiences at Trinity to outline seven ways institutions can help “move the needle” on increasing access and success for historically underrepresented populations.

Opening the admissions pool

Addressing the college application process, Perez advocates for decreased dependency on standardized testing, citing evidence that high test scores correlate with wealth, not with students’ first-year college GPAs. He says that, since Trinity switched to a test-optional policy, the school’s applicant pool has diversified and its student body includes more low-income, first-generation students than ever before.

Perez also urges schools to simplify the financial aid process, in part by requiring only a federal form for the lowest-income students and by giving students earlier, and more holistic, visibility into the cost of their education across all years.

Retaining and supporting students

To better support students once they enroll, colleges should make sure their policies and procedures speak effectively to students with varied backgrounds and experiences, Perez says. Asserting that “college should not be about survival of the fittest,” he cautions against assuming that all students bring the same social or cultural capital, including familiarity with higher education terminology like “office hours” or “syllabus.”

Further, Perez says, this inclusive approach must extend beyond orientation to encompass academic advising, course mentorship, and teaching, too. The better these departments communicate and collaborate throughout a student’s career, he says, the better they can help students thrive.

Advocating for state, federal support

Finally, Perez reminds readers that “higher education is a public good,” and calls for political engagement. He urges higher education leaders to lobby their state and federal representatives for the funding and support needed to effectively serve historically underrepresented student populations.

How Georgetown helps first-generation and low-income students thrive

Georgetown University is committed to ensuring that all students have the resources and support they need to succeed. The Georgetown Scholarship Program provides programmatic support to more than 650 undergraduates, and the 50-year-old Community Scholars Program prepares its multicultural cohort of first-generation college students for success with a five-week academic summer program and ongoing support. The Regents Science Scholars Program further expands opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences. Learn more about Georgetown’s commitment to access and affordability.

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