Yale helps found alliance to expand access to college for 50,000 talented students from lower-income families

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Yale University joined 30 of the nation’s most respected colleges and universities today in a new initiative to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at America’s top-performing undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates. (See below for a list of the 30 founding members.)

The American Talent Initiative (ATI), supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions united in this common goal. They are enhancing their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from each other, and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunities for lower-income students. 

“Yale is delighted to be a participant in the American Talent Initiative’s national movement to increase the number of low-income students at top schools by 2025,” said Peter Salovey, president and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology at Yale. “We are deeply committed to increasing the number of talented first-generation and low-income students enrolling in Yale College — and by continually refining our outreach, recruitment, and financial aid strategies, we have increased freshman enrollment among first-generation students by 27% in the past four years. In that same period, the number of incoming freshmen receiving Pell grants has grown by 36%.

“The expansion of the Yale College student body by 200 students per class, which will begin in fall 2017 with the opening of our two new residential colleges, presents an exciting opportunity to make a Yale education accessible to even more of these students,” said Salovey. “I believe all students and universities stand to benefit from the American Talent Initiative, and Yale is proud to be an ATI partner.”

With the aim of attracting more of the 270 institutions with graduation rates of 70% or higher over the next few years, the members of the American Talent Initiative have set a goal to attract, enroll, and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at those 270 colleges and universities by 2025. Based on the most recent federal data available, there are around 430,000 lower-income students enrolled at these 270 institutions. In other words, ATI’s goal is to increase and sustain the total number of lower-income students attending these top-performing colleges to 480,000 by 2025.

In the mid-20th century — with the G.I. Bill, the Higher Education Act and Civil Rights Act — the nation invested in and opened access to higher education for its citizens, characterizing a college degree as a path to success. Today, that degree is more critical than ever, note ATI leaders, and it’s incumbent upon educational institutions of all types to ensure that talented students from every part of society have access to an excellent education.

Yale recognizes that America’s top-performing colleges have an important role to play in this effort, noted Salovey. Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend these institutions, they graduate at higher rates, and access to those institutions provides them with a much greater chance of attaining leadership positions and opportunity throughout their lives. Yet in each graduating high school class, there are at least 12,500 lower-income young people with outstanding academic credentials who do not enroll in an institution where at least 70% of students graduate.

These students have earned the opportunity these schools offer, but for a variety of reasons — including a lack of information about their options, confusion about costs, and inadequate financial aid offers — many of them simply lack access, said ATI leaders. The American Talent Initiative seeks to ensure that these “missing” students have a path to attend and thrive at the institutions with the highest-graduation rates and best track records for post-graduate success.

“If we’re serious about promoting social mobility in America, we need to ensure that every qualified high school student in the U.S. has an opportunity to attend college. I’m so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves towards that goal. This is a vital first step towards creating a more meritocratic society,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City.

Colleges and universities participating in the American Talent Initiative will further the national goal of developing more talent from every American neighborhood by:

  • Recruiting students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds through robust outreach;
  • Ensuring that admitted lower-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective;
  • Prioritizing need-based financial aid; and
  • Minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between and among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

Members will share lessons learned as well as institutional data, annually publishing their progress toward meeting the national goal of 50,000 additional lower-income students by 2025. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measureable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.

Catharine Bond Hill, Ithaka S+R managing director and former Vassar president, noted, “this initiative speaks to fairness and equal opportunity for thousands of students who currently can’t claim either, and to the enormous societal benefit that comes from nurturing all of our most talented young people. Recent research suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors per year have SAT scores in the top 10% with 3.7 grade point averages or higher — and still do not attend the top 270 colleges. If each of these institutions commits to do its share, an additional 50,000 talented students — 12,500 in each grade level — will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned.”

Yale has made significant progress in recent years in increasing both the number of low-income students eligible for federal Pell Grants and the number of first-generation college students. The percentage of Yale College students with Pell Grants among those who are eligible has increased from 13% in the Class of 2017 to about 18% in the Class of 2020. First-generation college students make up 15% of the Class of 2020, compared to 12% for the Class of 2017. The increases are due to Yale’s generous financial aid program,  which meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need without any loans, and Yale’s outreach efforts to raise awareness about the college’s affordability for all. More than 200 freshmen who entered Yale in 2016 are eligible for a federal Pell grant for low-income students, and 52 are receiving a new Yale College Start-up Fund as part of the new $2 million undergraduate financial aid initiative announced last December. In 2015, Yale announced that it had met or exceeded all of the goals it had set to increase college opportunity and socio-economic diversity. The commitments by Yale were made to the administration of President Barack Obama in 2014. “The Admissions Committee and I have been thoroughly impressed with the applications we received from high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds,” Yale College Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said at the time. “Yale’s directed outreach efforts, its extraordinary financial aid policies, and key partnerships with local and national organizations have all contributed to diversifying the pool of talented students who apply to and then attend Yale.”

Member institutions of the American Talent Initiative are committing substantial resources to attract, enroll, and graduate students at their individual campuses. This initiative is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, and funded with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, convenings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.

Participating Institutions

Amherst College

Spelman College

Bates College

Stanford University

Davidson College

University of California-Berkeley

Dartmouth College

University of California-Los Angeles

Duke University

University of Maryland, College Park

Franklin & Marshall College

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Georgetown University

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Georgia Institute of Technology

University of Richmond

Harvard University

University of Texas-Austin

Johns Hopkins University

University of Washington

Lehigh University

Vanderbilt University

The Ohio State University

Vassar College

Pomona College

Washington University-St. Louis

Princeton University

Williams College

Rice University

Yale University

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326