Making college affordable for all was focus of ATI Presidential Roundtable

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Established in December, the American Talent Initiative has grown from 30 members to 55 and counting.

How do colleges and universities make themselves more accessible to high-achieving, lower- to moderate-income students while also ensuring the students’ success once they’re enrolled? Yale President Peter Salovey joined former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a growing coalition of college and university presidents on Feb. 22 to discuss this and other challenging questions during the inaugural American Talent Initiative (ATI) President’s Roundtable.

ATI is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies and is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R. It is a coalition of colleges and universities, including Ivy League institutions, public state flagships, private universities, and liberal arts colleges, with a shared commitment to increasing educational opportunities for talented students from under-resourced backgrounds.

Yale became a founding member of ATI in December, and since then the number of participating schools has grown from 30 to 55 and counting.

During the meeting, the presidents discussed near- and long-term goals for ATI, the challenges and opportunities that come with increasing access and resources for lower-income students, researching issues of access and success, and identifying solutions to address gaps in those areas for low-income students.

Reflecting on the group discussions, Salovey said that a focus on need-based aid across all of these institutions would be critical to success. He pointed out that an important issue to remember is that access is only part of the story and that the issues of ensuring success are complicated.

The answers to some of the questions the group discussed will come from sharing promising best practices and working together on a national campaign to reach students in all zip codes, participants agreed.

The day also included a meeting of admissions and communications representatives from the member schools. The group strategized on how to maintain a steady drumbeat of messaging to core audiences, including other institutions, policy makers, and most importantly, students, parents, and other guidance counselors.

Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of admissions, served on a panel where he discussed how he and his team developed Yale’s collective impact framework, a best-practices document that outlines how the university is approaching the ATI goals. These focus areas include: engaging in robust outreach to low- and moderate-income students; ensuring that admitted low- and moderate-income students enroll, feel included, and engage in the campus community, and are retained; prioritizing need-based financial aid; and minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between students from low-, moderate-, and high-income families.

As part of Yale’s participation in the ATI, the university made eight firm commitments to increase opportunity for under-resourced students. These commitments ranged from conducting additional outreach travel to improving financial aid awards for the lowest-income students, and continuing to support the New Haven Promise program that provides scholarships for students graduating from New Haven public high schools. There is also a focus on summer bridge programs like Freshman Scholars at Yale, and Online Experiences for Yale Scholars. Yale also announced an expanded partnership with Matriculate, a national non-profit organization that provides virtual college advising to high-achieving low-income high school students.

“We used this as an opportunity to drill down on initiatives that had already been in place, and to crystalize our goals on increasing the number of Pell-eligible students in our undergraduate class,” said Quinlan. “I am happy to share that Yale remains committed to diversity as we expand the size of the undergraduate student body, and I am thrilled that the larger freshman class will allow us to enroll more students from low-income backgrounds.”

ATI recently published the first in a planned series of quarterly strategy papers that focused on funding strategies. Member schools will also continue to share lessons learned as well as institutional data, annually publishing their progress toward meeting the national goal of adding 50,000 lower-income students by 2025.

The theme of the roundtable was clear: Getting more high-achieving, low- and moderate- income high school students to apply to colleges and universities that match their academic achievement levels will be a measure of success in the coming years.

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