Philanthropists, colleges aim to make ‘gap years’ more accessible

Citing the perspective and maturity gained when high school graduates defer their college enrollment for a year to pursue other experiences, colleges and philanthropists are offering financial support for admitted students to take a so-called “gap year,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

Gap years used to be considered “elite, homogenous, and kind of a luxury,” said Abby Falik, the founder and CEO of the gap year organization Global Citizen Year. But as more colleges, students, and families embrace the model, stakeholders are pushing to provide the financial support and academic credit needed to make gap-year projects accessible to a broader swath of students.

It’s tough to know how many U.S. students currently take gap years, but many elite colleges now permit them. Some schools—for instance, Princeton University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Florida State University—also provide financial support so lower-income students can seize the opportunity to volunteer, travel, and gain real-world experience.

Philanthropists challenge Duke to increase diversity of gap-year participants

Pointing to the many ways a gap year benefited their son, venture philanthropists Laura and Gary Lauder have pledged to give Duke University $1.5 million across three years to increase the number and socioeconomic diversity of students taking gap years. The gift will enable Duke to give between $5,000 and $15,000 to 15-20 admitted students who “demonstrate a commitment to service and personal growth,” according to Duke Today. The gap-year companies Global Citizen Year and Year On have said they will match those grants if students opt to participate in their specific programs, increasing the total potential aid to $30,000.

The Lauders said they will fund an additional three years—and, ultimately, endow the gap-year program in perpetuity with a $10 million gift—if the university meets certain goals. The family has made a similar offer to the University of Pennsylvania, The Journal reports.

Duke now offers both organized gap-year trips and student-designed options, believing the model helps students “to reflect, to grow, to mature, to develop,” said Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions. “Traditionally, students taking a gap year come from advantaged family backgrounds,” Guttentag said, adding that the school wants a broader range of students to have the option to participate.

Colorado College researching gap-year models, benefits

Meanwhile, hoping to better understand the anatomy and benefits of a “purposeful precollege year,” Colorado College has organized a research consortium composed of 12 top colleges. Colorado College says that 10 percent of its incoming first-year class—about 60 students—now take a gap year. Prior analyses of Colorado College students have linked gap-year participation to slightly faster college completion and higher GPAs, The Journal reports.

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