Columbia Joins Schools Working to Expand College Access Through American Talent Initiative

April 25, 2017

Columbia University has joined 67 of the nation’s most respected colleges and universities in an alliance to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students being educated at America’s undergraduate institutions. This alliance, called the American Talent Initiative (ATI), supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions in this common goal. ATI members will enhance their own efforts to recruit, enroll and support lower-income students, learn from each other and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunity.

“Columbia is deeply committed to the goals of the American Talent Initiative, and we are excited to partner with them to expand our many existing initiatives designed to increase college opportunities for low- and middle-income students,” explained Jessica Marinaccio, dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid. “ATI has the potential to reach thousands of students, including many right here in New York City.”

Launched in December 2016, the American Talent Initiative has put forward 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. Based on the most recent federal data available, there are approximately 430,000 lower-income students enrolled at these 270 institutions. ATI’s goal is to increase and sustain the total number of lower-income students attending these top-performing colleges to approximately 480,000 by 2025. ATI aims to add more top-performing colleges to its membership in the coming months and years.

Research shows that when high-achieving, lower-income students attend quality colleges, they graduate at higher rates and access to these institutions offers a much greater opportunity to attain leadership positions in society. Yet each year, there are at least 12,500 lower-income young people who graduate from high school across the U.S. with outstanding academic credentials, but who do not enroll at institutions where they would enjoy the greatest likelihood of completing their undergraduate studies and graduating.

For a variety of reasons—including a lack of information about their options, confusion about costs, and inadequate financial aid offers—many of these students simply lack access to the institutions with the highest-graduation rates and the best track records for post-graduate success. The American Talent Initiative seeks to engage these “missing” students.

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

Columbia University and other ATI members will share lessons learned as well as institutional data and will annually publish their aggregate progress. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations coordinating the initiative with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, will study the practices that lead to measurable progress and share that knowledge with the field through regular publications. The first of these publications focusing on financial strategies to bolster lower-income student success was published in February.

Member institutions of the American Talent Initiative are committing substantial resources to attract, enroll and graduate students at their individual campuses. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, convening of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.