Dozens of colleges pledge to expand efforts to help students in financial need

January 16, 2014

The auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building was so packed with college presidents and various other higher education leaders Thursday morning that the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, had to sit behind the television cameras.

George Washington University President Steven Knapp, who had the shortest trip of any university leader to this White House summit, stood along one aisle for a long stretch at the standing-room-only event but eventually found a seat.

Dozens of leaders came even though there was, in essence, an entry fee. They had to pledge new steps to help students in financial need enroll and succeed in college.

“Everybody needed to come bearing gifts,” quipped Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which represents university presidents.

The White House counted commitments from more than 100 colleges and 40 college-related organizations.

Many of the commitments were probably in the works before the summit was conceived.

But University of California System President Janet Napolitano, who as a former homeland security secretary knows a few things about how Washington works, said the summit helped crystallize UC’s plans and give them added momentum.

UC, Napolitano said, is teaming up with California community colleges and the California State University system on a plan to give community college students more real-time information on their academic progress so they can chart a path to transfer to a four-year institution. That is one of several outreach efforts planned in the nation’s most populous state. Dirks plans to visit 10 middle or high schools to “encourage early college awareness.”

Napolitano praised President Obama for drawing attention to barriers to higher education, but she said the challenge will be to keep public momentum on the issue.

“It’ll be kind of a one-day spurt of A3 stories,” she said, guessing where the coverage would land in the newspapers. “Thinking about how we sustain public visibility on this, moving forward, is a question.”

Many schools were eager to promote their initiatives. Holden Thorp, provost of Washington University in St. Louis, said his school would be teaming with the College Advising Corps to help high school students from low-income families in St. Louis enroll in college. Davidson College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University also are joining an expansion of the advising corps in rural North Carolina.

There were some skeptics of the gathering. Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire said the White House was overlooking the expertise of many schools, including hers, that have long record of helping students from impoverished families.

Here is a selection of details from a White House dossier on participants in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

GWU: “New efforts to increase access to higher education for low-income students in the District of Columbia by intensifying direct support to local students, their parents, and the teachers and counselors who serve them.”

Georgetown University: It “will partner with the Posse Foundation to implement a new program . . . that will focus on recruiting students to major in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.”

Howard University: A program “to specifically focus on success of selected low-income students in the STEM fields to increase the retention and graduation rate of low-income STEM students and improve the rate and cadre of low-income minority students entering graduate/professional programs and/or the workforce.”

The University System of Maryland: Working with Montgomery County public schools and Montgomery College, it will identify “low-income students with college potential in the 10th grade” and provide academic coaching and support from 11th grade through a community college degree, charting a pathway to bachelor’s degree at a USM institution.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County: It will expand “the lessons learned from UMBC’s partnership with four Maryland community colleges on the Transfer STEM Scholar Pathway, which lays out a clear program of study, from community college to university to graduation.”

Goucher College: It “will meet a higher level of financial need through scholarships and grants for appropriately qualified students. High-achieving, low-income students will have 78 percent of their need met through this program, and low-income students with more modest credentials will have 60 percent of their need met.”

Morgan State University: It will “expand the Network for Excellence and Undergraduate Success (NEXUS) program with the Community College of Baltimore County from 53 students to 150 students” and similar programs with other community colleges.

University of Virginia: It “will identify high-achieving, low-income students who are qualified for admission to UVa and send them personalized messages to increase their understanding of college costs, need-based financial aid, and net price.”

Virginia Community College System: It will develop “strategies to ensure that first-time college-going students (with an emphasis on students from low-income and underrepresented populations) receive career counseling and academic advising prior to their initial college enrollment.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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