Rice U. is founding member of new alliance to expand opportunities for 50,000 talented students from lower-income families


David Ruth

Rice U. is founding member of new alliance to expand opportunities for 50,000 talented students from lower-income families

American Talent Initiative unites 30 of most-respected universities in US for national effort to enroll and graduate more high-achieving, lower-income students

HOUSTON — (Dec. 13, 2016) — Rice University and 29 other prominent colleges and universities are part of a new initiative committed to making high-quality educational opportunities available to more students from lower-income families.

The goal of the initiative is to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at America’s top-performing undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates.

The American Talent Initiative (ATI), brings together a diverse group of public and private institutions committed to this common goal. They are enhancing their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from each other and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand similar opportunities.

“In an era of increasing inequality, colleges and universities must renew their commitment to being engines of opportunity,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Rice looks forward to working with its partners in carrying out its mission to provide the best education for talented students regardless of their financial background and means.”

Aiming to welcome more of the 270 institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher over the next few years, the members of the American Talent Initiative have set a goal to attract, enroll and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at those 270 colleges and universities by 2025.

In the mid-20th century — with the GI Bill, the Higher Education Act and Civil Rights Act — the nation invested in and opened access to higher education for its citizens, characterizing a college degree as a path to success. Today, that degree is more critical than ever, and it’s incumbent upon educational institutions of all types to ensure that talented students from every part of society have access to an excellent education.

Rice recognizes that America’s top-performing colleges have an important role to play in this effort. For more than a decade, Rice has kept its tuition lower than rates at peer research universities and implemented a generous financial-aid policy designed to make education affordable to students from a variety of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Under the current policy, freshmen who qualify for need-based aid and whose annual family income is $80,000 or less are not required to take out loans to pay for their education; other freshmen who have demonstrated financial need are not required to take out more than a total of $10,000 in loans for their four undergraduate years at Rice.

Because of Rice’s need-blind admission policy, students’ academic qualifications for admission are reviewed without any consideration of their financial situation. Nearly 60 percent of all undergraduate students at Rice receive some form of financial aid through a combination of scholarship grants, loans and work-study programs, and nearly 15 percent of undergraduates receive federal Pell Grants.

To help students of exceptional promise whose high school preparation might make the early college years particularly difficult, Rice established the Rice Emerging Scholars Program in 2012. This six-week program is designed to acquaint incoming first-year students with the demanding pace, depth and rigor of science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses at Rice the summer before matriculation and continues for at least two more years after the students arrive on campus. The goal is to address academic and nonacademic barriers to success for new students seeking a career in science or engineering.

Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend the nation’s top institutions, they graduate at higher rates, and access to those institutions provides them with a much greater chance of attaining leadership positions and opportunity throughout their lives. Yet in each graduating high school class, at least 12,500 lower-income young people with outstanding academic credentials do not enroll in an institution where at least 70 percent of students graduate.

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. The American Talent Initiative, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, seeks to ensure that these “missing” students have a path to attend and thrive at the institutions with the highest graduation rates and best track records for postgraduate success.

“If we’re serious about promoting social mobility in America, we need to ensure that every qualified high school student in the U.S. has an opportunity to attend college,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York City. “I’m so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves toward that goal. This is a vital first step toward creating a more meritocratic society.”

Colleges and universities participating in the American Talent Initiative will further the national goal of developing more talent from every American neighborhood by:

  • Recruiting students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds through robust outreach.
  • Ensuring that admitted lower-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective.
  • Prioritizing need-based financial aid.
  • Minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between and among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

Members will share lessons learned as well as institutional data and publish annually their progress toward meeting the national goal of 50,000 additional lower-income students by 2025. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measureable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.

Catherine Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R and former president of Vassar, noted that the initiative “speaks to fairness and equal opportunity for thousands of students who currently can’t claim either, and to the enormous societal benefit that comes from nurturing all of our most talented young people.” She cited recent research that suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors per year have SAT scores in the top 10 percent and 3.7 grade point averages or higher but still do not attend the top 270 colleges.

“If each of these institutions commits to do its share, an additional 50,000 talented students — 12,500 in each grade level — will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned,” Hill said.

Member institutions of the American Talent Initiative (www.americantalentinitiative.org) are committing substantial resources to attract, enroll and graduate students at their individual campuses. The initiative is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program (www.aspeninstitute.org/college-excellence) and Ithaka S+R (www.sr.ithaka.org) and funded with an initial $1.7 million, multiyear grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, convenings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.

 Participating institutions
Amherst College Spelman College
Bates College Stanford University
Davidson College University of California, Berkeley
Dartmouth College University of California, Los Angeles
Duke University University of Maryland, College Park
Franklin & Marshall College University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Georgetown University University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Georgia Institute of Technology University of Richmond
Harvard University University of Texas at Austin
Johns Hopkins University University of Washington
Lehigh University Vanderbilt University
The Ohio State University Vassar College
Pomona College Washington University in St. Louis
Princeton University Williams College
Rice University Yale University

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,910 undergraduates and 2,809 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for happiest students and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.

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About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.