Carolina among new alliance to expand access for talented lower-income students

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill long has been a national leader in making a college degree possible for deserving students regardless of whether they can pay the full cost of their education. Carolina again is showing that commitment by helping launch a new alliance to educate more lower- and moderate-income students at America’s top schools with the highest graduation rates.

The American Talent Initiative, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together 30 founding members committed to providing more high-achieving, lower- and moderate-income students with a clear pathway to college and the promise of lifetime success. Joining Carolina are other leading public flagships, private universities and liberal arts colleges.

The national goal of the initiative is to attract, enroll and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income high school students at the 270 colleges and universities with the highest graduation rates by 2025. To reach that ambitious target, the initiative aims to gradually add more top-performing campuses to the ranks of the founding members.

Each year, an estimated 12,500 lower-income high school graduates with outstanding academic credentials do not attend a school where at least 70 percent of students graduate. However, research shows that when such students attend schools with strong graduation rates, they are more likely to earn their degrees and seize leadership opportunities that propel future success.

“North Carolinians have a deep faith in the power of higher education to change lives, reflected in our history as the nation’s first public university,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “We are pleased to champion the American Talent Initiative’s effort to unlock the full potential of low- and moderate-income students.

“For over a decade, through the Carolina Covenant, we have offered low-income students the opportunity to graduate without debt,” Folt said. “The program’s academic and wellness support services have fostered student success and helped improve graduation rates. Carolina remains one of the country’s few public universities that is both need blind in admissions and meets the full financial need of every eligible student we admit.”

Other founding initiative members include Duke University and Davidson College, as well as flagship publics in California, Michigan, Texas and Maryland. Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded a $1.7 million, multi-year grant to the initiative, which is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R. Both not-for-profit organizations will study practices that lead to measurable progress and report results in regular publications. Founding members will share best practices about recruiting and supporting lower-income students and contributing to research to help other schools succeed.

Carolina’s Successful Accessibility and Affordability Initiatives

Under Folt’s leadership, Carolina has remained focused on its historic commitment to provide outstanding access and affordability to students who earn admission regardless of their ability to pay. The low- to middle-income students the University enrolls through those mission-driven efforts strengthen both the campus community and the quality of the education available to those students. These students often are the first in their families to attend college or have parents who earn modest incomes as public servants such as teachers, ministers, veterans, police officers and others who are dedicated to improving society every day.

Deserving students benefit from nationally recognized programs like the Carolina Covenant, which has offered more than 6,000 low-income students who earn admission the chance to graduate debt free. The Carolina Firsts program created a path of opportunity for the 20 percent of undergraduates who will be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year campus. Carolina’s newest initiatives include the UNC CORE program, an undergraduate, distance-education certificate program designed to accelerate the degree path of active-duty service members in the U.S. armed forces, veterans and National Guard or Reserve members.

UNC-Chapel Hill meets 100 percent of the documented need of undergraduates qualifying for need-based aid who apply on time, and meets more than two-thirds of that need with grants and scholarships, thanks in large part to the contributions of generous donors.

In 2016, UNC-Chapel Hill’s four-year graduation rate was 82 percent, up 8 percentage points since 2005. The six-year rate was 91.4 percent and rose by more than 5 percentage points.

Among students receiving federal need-based Pell Grants, four- and six-year graduation rates increased sharply over the past decade – by 16 and 9 percentage points, respectively. In 2016, Pell Grant recipients posted a four-year graduation rate of 77 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 87 percent. Students receiving other need-based financial aid improved both four- and six-year rates by more than 10 percentage points. The 2016 four-year graduation rate for this group now is 81 percent, just 1 percentage point lower than the rate for all undergraduates, and the six-year rate is 93 percent, which exceeds the overall undergraduate rate by 2 percentage points.

Carolina helped nurture, expand and serve as the headquarters for the national College Advising Corps between 2007 and 2013. During that span, the campus successfully launched the Carolina College Advising Corps. Now in its 10th year, the Carolina College Advising Corps places recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduates as admissions and financial-aid advisers in underserved North Carolina high schools to help students find colleges where they will thrive. This year, 51 advisers are serving 71 high schools and 62,000 students statewide. Those schools enroll 19 percent of the state’s black students, 13 percent of the Hispanic students and 33 percent of the Native American students.

Carolina recently accepted a $20 million match challenge to expand private support for need- and merit-based scholarships. The “Give for Good: Scholarship Challenge” is structured as tandem $10 million matches – one benefiting the Carolina Covenant and the other the merit-based Morehead-Cain Scholarships. The match comes as part of a $40 million gift funding more student scholarship opportunities that epitomize the University’s mission.

Folt and campus leaders plan to share lessons about such successes with other American Talent Initiative founders. Current University priorities include removing disparities between the graduation rates of low-income and first-generation students and the student body. While the University has made steady progress, campus leaders continue to strive to reduce those gaps.

By Mike McFarland, Communications and Public Affairs
Published December 13, 2016