New film shines light on barriers to, advocates for equitable college experiences

Former Columbia University admissions officer Jaye Fenderson, disillusioned with an admissions process that appeared to favor applicants from affluent backgrounds, decided to leave her job and create films about college access. Her newest movie, Unlikely, explores “the structures in higher education that prevent low-income students from succeeding, and the colleges that are trying to help those students succeed,” The 74 reports.

Among those barriers, the film highlights colleges’ and universities’ focus on national rankings, pointing out that U.S. News & World Report’s methodology fuels inequality by prioritizing metrics like acceptance rates, standardized test scores, and alumni giving. The 74 cites a Politico investigation finding that many schools ignore students of color in favor of improving their national rankings.

Five students—and the forces shaping access and attainment

According to The 74, the film focuses on the lives of five students who dropped out of college but are trying to earn a college degree again. Unlikely also highlights how universities and advocates are pushing for equitable access to higher education and designing models that support student success.

The film, for instance, looks at the four-year-old University Innovation Alliance, a group of large public research universities sharing best practices for enrolling and supporting a more diverse student body. It also profiles YearUp—an immersive training program that provides young adults with coursework, internships, and support to encourage degree attainment and career success—and the I Promise scholarship program launched by basketball player LeBron James.

The film is premiering this weekend at the Napa Valley Film Festival, before being released to the public in the fall. Watch the trailer:

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