UT Austin has joined an initiative to 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), supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions united in this common goal. They are enhancing their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from one another and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunity. 

“As one of the nation’s most affordable top-tier universities, UT Austin has long been a leader in expanding access to high-quality education at a research university. We look forward to collaborating with other leading universities that share a commitment to recruit top students, close gaps in persistence, improve student success and reduce time-to-degree,” says President Gregory L. Fenves. “Success in access is vital to UT Austin’s mission, and we are always striving to improve — particularly for low- and middle-income students.”

Research suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors each year have SAT scores in the top 10 percent of their classes and grade-point averages of 3.7, but do not attend the top 270 colleges with proven histories of successful support. Collectively, these 270 universities will work to add 12,500 to each incoming class to meet the goal by 2025.

Research shows high-achieving, lower-income students graduate at higher rates from ATI institutions than from other universities. Access to those institutions provides them with a much greater chance of attaining leadership positions and opportunity throughout their lives. Yet each year in the US, at least 12,500 lower-income young people graduate from high school with outstanding academic credentials but 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 lack access. ATI 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. I’m so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves towards that goal. This is a vital first step towards creating a more meritocratic society,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York.

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

  • Recruiting students from diverse socioeconomic 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, annually publishing 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 managing the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measurable progress and disseminate findings.

This initiative is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R and funded with an initial $1.7 million, multiyear grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, collaborative efforts and meetings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.

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