Thirty of the nation’s most respected colleges and universities today announced a new venture to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at America’s undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates.

Coordinated by Ithaka S+R and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and supported by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the American Talent Initiative (ATI) brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions to ensure that talented young people from every zip code and income level have the opportunity to enroll in institutions with the highest graduation rates and best track records for post-graduate success. By joining ATI, these institutions will focus on enhancing and amplifying their own efforts to attract, enroll, and graduate lower-income students with the idea that, together, they can bring about a scale of national change that no single institution can accomplish alone.

The American Talent Initiative has set a national goal of educating 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at the 270 colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates by 2025. In order to reach this ambitious goal, ATI aims to add more top performing colleges every year to the 30 founding members.

America’s top colleges have an important role to play in expanding access and success for low- and moderate-income students. Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend these institutions, their probability of graduating increases significantly, as do their potential earnings and long-term quality of life. Yet in each high school cohort, there are at least 12,500 lower-income young people with outstanding academic credentials who do not enroll in institutions with graduation rates consistently above 70 percent. 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.

To achieve its goals, the American Talent Initiative will focus on three major areas of activity:

  • A sustained national campaign to raise public and private sector awareness about the incredible talent in lower-income communities, address challenges that lower-income students face, and create momentum among higher education leaders to act on improving access and success for lower-income students.
  • Aspirational, measurable goals, including endorsement of a shared national target of educating 50,000 additional students by 2025, and individualized institutional goals with a focus on outreach to talented lower-income students, prioritizing need-based financial aid, and improving student support and graduation rates.
  • Research and knowledge-dissemination facilitated by Aspen and Ithaka S+R to identify and promote replication of effective practices and elevate ATI member efforts, including quarterly research papers detailing promising strategies for increasing opportunity and success.

In the coming weeks, we plan to publish the first of these quarterly research papers, which is focused on the strategies employed by five institutions that have demonstrated success in raising or reallocating funds to maintain or increase lower-income student enrollment on their campuses.

Ithaka S+R’s participation in ATI reflects our commitment to studying and helping the higher education community implement innovative practices and policies that enhance student access and success. The goals of the initiative also have special resonance for many of us—they are at the heart of the academic work and Vassar presidency of Ithaka S+R Managing Director Cappy Hill, and the focus of so many of the late Bill Bowen’s books, including Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education, co-authored by one of us (Martin). We are thrilled to be a part of ATI and look forward to sharing what we learn with you in the coming months.

American Talent Initiative in the news:

Make Colleges Diverse
David Leonhardt | New York Times

Looking for Low-Income Students
Rick Seltzer | Inside Higher Ed

Selective colleges pledge to recruit more low-income students
Nick Anderson | The Washington Post

Top Colleges Look to Enroll More Low-Income Students
Sue Snyder | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Ohio State seeks to help more low-income students
Shannon Gilchrist | The Columbus Dispatch

U-M to expand opportunity for talented low- and middle-income students
Martin Slagter |

Rice, UT join effort to recruit more lower income students
Lindsay Ellis | Houston Chronicle

UNC, Duke, Davidson join pact to help low-income students
Jane Stancill | The News & Observer