American Talent Initiative 2021
Third Annual Progress Report
The American Talent Initiative (ATI) brings together a coalition of four-year colleges and universities in pursuit of a common goal: enrolling, supporting, and graduating 50,000 additional lower-income students by 2025 at the colleges and universities that consistently graduate at least 70 percent of their students in six years. ATI’s third annual progress report provides a snapshot of progress—and setbacks. It comes at a time when a global pandemic has deepened inequality, and a national uprising against systemic racism has sharpened higher education’s focus on advancing equity for underserved communities. This backdrop brings a renewed sense of urgency to realizing ATI’s goal.
The progress report includes new enrollment data from the 2019-20 academic year as well as Fall 2020. The pre-COVID and COVID era data reveal four key findings:
- Before the pandemic, between 2015-16 and 2019-20, ATI members (130 during this data collection period) collectively increased Pell enrollment by 10,417
- In the years leading up to the pandemic, 2018-19 and 2019-20, ATI’s progress leveled off and began to reverse, with an enrollment decline of 3,873 Pell students, attributable to two main factors: (1) substantial declines at a set of ATI member institutions that enroll very high shares of Pell students, and (2) insufficient progress at a set of institutions with lower Pell
- Fall 2020 enrollment data for 115 ATI members show a single-year drop of 7,166 Pell students (compared to Fall 2019). Driven in large part by declines in first-time and transfer Pell student enrollment at public institutions, and decreased Pell student retention rates at private
- COVID-era declines have nearly returned Pell enrollment levels among ATI members to 2015-16
The Accelerating Opportunity campaign aims to reverse recent trends, elevating the priority of access and success for lower-income students across the membership.
The Accelerating Opportunity Campaign
In response, 125 ATI members have renewed their commitment to the initiative by signing onto the Accelerating Opportunity campaign. Signatories pledge to aspirational campus- level goals for lower-income student access and success based on their 2019-2020 enrollment levels:
- Members with a lower-income enrollment share below 15 percent will aim for an ambitious goal between 15 and 20 percent by 2025, or an equally ambitious increase in the number of lower-income students by
- Members with a lower-income student enrollment share between 15 and 20 percent will make measurable progress toward a 20 percent share of lower-income student enrollment or an equally ambitious increase in the number of lower-income students by
- Members with a lower-income student enrollment share above 20 percent will aim to at least maintain opportunity for lower-income students at current levels, if not expand enrollment by
- All members, regardless of lower-income share, aim to minimize equity-based graduation gaps by
Many ATI members have demonstrated that rapid and substantial progress is possible. Before COVID, 80 ATI member institutions increased Pell enrollment by at least 2 percent, with 53 of those institutions increasing Pell enrollment by more than 8 percent. Together, these institutions enrolled about 20,000 additional Pell students between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Even amid the uncertainty of COVID, 31 members increased Pell enrollment in Fall 2020.
Such examples of progress do not guarantee ATI’s success. The Accelerating Opportunity campaign aims to reverse recent trends, elevating the priority of access and success for lower-income students across the membership. Progress toward the 50,000-by-2025 goal will hinge on whether member actions can match the spirit of their aspirations.