Johns Hopkins University has jumped into a group of 30 top colleges and universities sporting high graduation rates that will aim to enroll and graduate tens of thousands more students from humble beginnings.
The effort is called the American Talent Initiative, which has set a goal to enroll 50,000 additional low-and moderate-income students at colleges with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher by 2025. According to the initiative’s website, 270 colleges currently graduate at least seven in 10 of their students within six years. These 30 will serve the initiative’s “founding institutions,” but the effort will aim to expand to those other schools.
To achieve that goal, the initiative tasks the universities with expanding outreach to a more socio-economically diverse group of prospective students, enrolling and retaining those students, prioritizing need-based financial aid and eliminating factors that contribute to graduation rate gaps between poor, moderate-income and high-income students.
On the enrollment side, a large pool of high-achieving students exists for these schools to draw from. Each year, at least 12,500 high school senior achieve SAT scores in the top 10 percent and have GPAs of 3.7 or higher, but don’t enroll at any of those 270 schools with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher, according to Catherine Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R. Her organization and the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program are coordinating the initiative and will study the schools’ data to draw outcomes as the effort progresses.
JHU President Ronald J. Daniels said in a statement that “our nation, our economy, and all our citizens benefit from nurturing talented young people from the broadest pool possible, including every community and socioeconomic background.”
He said the university will aim to expand staple offerings like its Baltimore Scholars Program, which has already received a boost in funding for this year, to enroll and graduate more top students from the lower side of the economic spectrum.
A prime audience of prospective students for the school to draw from would be those eligible for Pell grants, which are federal need-based subsidies for qualifying students, usually from low-income backgrounds, capped at $5,815 per year. According to U.S. News and World Report, 12 percent of JHU undergrads received Pell grants during the 2014-15 school year, the latest with available data.
The University of Maryland is also a member of the group of 30 schools participating in the initiative. UMd., Hopkins and the other participating institutions, including Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Stanford and Yale universities, will be sharing their data on student outcomes and graduation rates on an annual basis.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation is funding the American Talent Initiative with an initial $1.7 million multi-year grant. Bloomberg attended Hopkins and has made himself well-loved by the school’s trustees and top administrators, donating more than $1 billion over the course of his career, including a $300 million gift to the School of Public Health named after him.
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