In December 2016, 30 leading colleges and universities joined forces to address a persistent problem: Too few talented, low- and moderate-income students from across the country were enrolled at the U.S. colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates. By joining the American Talent Initiative (ATI), an initiative co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, these colleges and universities committed to work together to change this reality. Specifically, these colleges and universities set a goal that by 2025, the nearly 300 American colleges and universities with graduation rates of at least 70 percent will increase the number of low- and moderate-income students enrolled by 50,000.

Two years later the number of ATI members has grown to 108 colleges and universities, and we are starting to see some preliminary evidence that the initiative’s approach can have a meaningful impact. In a new report published today, we are excited to share that ATI members have increased the enrollment of students who receive federal Pell grants by 7,291 since the 2015-16 school year. Of the 96 members that have been with ATI long enough to submit multiple years of data, 68 increased their Pell enrollment between 2015-16 and 2017-18; this includes 19 public colleges and universities and 49 private ones.

As part of their ATI commitment, each member sets goals and strategies to improve socioeconomic diversity on their campuses. The report highlights five key strategies that ATI members are employing in their efforts to expand opportunity:

  • Setting a vision for socioeconomic diversity that is clearly prioritized by presidents, chancellors, and boards of trustees;
  • Increasing the size of the student body and maintaining long-held commitments to access;
  • Expanding the pipelines of students they typically reach out to and enroll, through new approaches to recruitment practices and transfer admissions;
  • Shifting resources to need-based financial aid and taking other steps to make college more affordable; and
  • Improving on-campus supports to ensure that college is inclusive and navigable, designed to help all students learn and graduate.

We believe that this early progress stems from committed leaders and effective practices, some of which have their roots in efforts that predate the founding of ATI. At the same time, the initiative has galvanized members, surfaced and shared effective practices, and raised the profile and priority of socioeconomic diversity, thereby laying a foundation for further progress. While we’re still in the early days of ATI and there is much more work to be done, we are encouraged by these early results. We look forward to continuing to work together toward a common goal of contributing to America’s future as a diverse and prosperous nation where talent rises through higher education.

Read more about the report in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

The American Talent Initiative is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R.