Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Students to Attend College
CBS news recently referred to a growing movement in college opportunities as “color-blind Affirmative Action,” and plenty of people are happy to hear about this newer attempt to close the higher education gap between rich and poor.
It started with the creation of the University Innovation Alliance in 2013. Backed by the Melissa and Bill Gates Foundation, the Alliance brought together leaders from some of the largest public universities in the country to brainstorm ways to help low-income students get a college education. In addition to lowering tuition, the schools worked to make it easier for students to transfer their credits from community colleges and increased online learning to help working students stay in school. There was also a conscious shift in how college applications were evaluated.
At Princeton, for example, the admissions staff is being trained to look at applications through a different lens. All things created equal—such as GPA and test scores—a first-generation, low-income (FLI) student working two jobs to support his family might be chosen over a student from an elite private school. This year, 28 percent of Princeton’s freshmen are FLIs, and 60 percent of the student body receives financial aid.
Of course, the argument against this shift to welcome students from the lower socioeconomic class to college is that Princeton is turning down lots of other highly qualified students who happen to come from money. How does Princeton justify its choices?
“This commitment we have to be a real leader on socioeconomic diversity is a big part of taking the next step for us and making the right kind of difference in the world,” Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, told CBS News. “It’s a new way of making sure that we have the diversity on our campus to deliver on the kind of education that we care about and that the world needs.”
Princeton isn’t a lone wolf in the movement. Bill and Melinda Gates spent more than a billion dollars on college scholarships for low-income minority students, and schools in the Alliance are seeing their goals come to fruition.
At the University of Central Florida, a New Direct Connection program helped 69 percent more AA transfer students complete a Bachelor’s degree.
The University of Texas at Austin (UT) decided to focus more resources on supporting at-risk students and increased their graduation rate by 1,000 more students per year in six years. More graduates also means more income and more openings for the university, allowing UT to reduce the cost of school and increase Hispanic undergraduate enrollment (now at 23 percent of the student body).
Purdue froze tuition, lowered student costs to improve access for low-income students and developed three-year competency-based degrees.
The University Innovation Alliance seems to be on track to fulfill its mission. In four years, membership schools have increased their low-income student graduation rates by nearly 30 percent. One of its members, University of California, Riverside, is now one of two campuses in the country where underrepresented minority and low-income students graduate at the same rate as the campus-wide average.
To find out which schools are members in the University Innovation Alliance, visit www.theuia.org.