University joins American Talent Initiative to expand access for low-income students

Max Haase, Contributing Writer

Last spring, the University joined the American Talent Initiative (ATI), a growing alliance of colleges and universities dedicated to substantially expanding opportunity and access for low-and moderate-income students. This initiative seeks to graduate an additional 50,000 lower-income students at nearly 300 colleges and universities across the country by 2025. All participating colleges and universities must have consistent six year graduation rates of 70 percent or higher for their undergraduate students.

ATI has made significant strides in expanding opportunities across socioeconomic backgrounds. However, there are still thousands of lower-class students who lack access to education. The ATI asserts that our national economy benefits from supporting young talent from every income level. In order to do so, public awareness regarding the current state of educational inequality, due to lack of financial resources, must be raised. On the organization’s website, ATI members express a direct focus on, “recruiting students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds through robust outreach, ensuring the admitted low-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have shown to be effective, and prioritizing need-based financial aid.”

Therefore, if ATI’s objectives are not met, highly talented low-and moderate-income students are much less likely to lead successful lives, due to the correlation between undergraduate enrollment and post-graduate success. Also, our nation’s economy depends on the development of young minds across financial backgrounds. Opportunity is the largest stepping-stone in the road to success, as exemplified by the ATI.

By joining the ATI, the University has affirmed its commitment to economic diversity, by not only diversifying the student body but also enabling high-achieving students of a lower socioeconomic status (SES) to overcome financial limitations.

Bill Conley, Vice President for Enrollment Management and the University’s primary institutional representative for ATI, explained that the initiative requires engagement from admissions, financial aid, and the president’s office.

“Over the past three years Bucknell has enrolled the three most diverse classes in university history,” Conley said. “Unfortunately, our relatively low endowment per student has historically limited our financial aid budge and our ability to enroll a more diverse socio-economic student body.”

Conley attended the inaugural forum in October and spoke with colleagues from more than 50 institutions. He expects to continue collaborating with these professionals, both through ATI and informal contact, to learn how the University can improve recruitment and retention efforts of low SES students.

“Currently, 10 percent of our enrolled students receive Pell Grants [subsidies the Federal government provides for students who need financial-based aid]. In the context of our ATI membership, we aspire to lift this proportion to at least 15% by the class entering in 2025,” Conley said. “It is important to note that ATI does not set strict benchmarks for each institution; it is understood that our membership and commitment to engagement reflects a sincere, strategic intention to do our part to accomplish the overall goal of 50,000 more Pell Grant recipients by 2025.”

President John Bravman will be among the 40 college and university presidents attending the President’s ATI Summit next week. There he will have an opportunity to engage with the ATI leadership and other presidents to learn more about their efforts to support low SES recruitment and retention.

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