New Report Shows Allegheny College and Fellow American Talent Initiative Members Are Expanding Access and Opportunity for Students

American Talent Initiative on Track to Goal of 50,000 More Lower-Income Students by 2025

Allegheny College is proud to be part of a national alliance of leading colleges and universities that a new report released today shows is on track to enroll 50,000 more lower-income students by 2025. The findings underscore the importance of the American Talent Initiative’s (ATI) collaborative push to expand opportunity and socioeconomic diversity across the country.

American Talent Initiative logoBetween 2015-16, the year before ATI launched, and the 2017-18 school year, U.S. colleges and universities with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher — Allegheny College among them —added 20,696 students who qualify for Pell grants. That number represents more than 40 percent of ATI’s 2025 goal. While ATI measures the collective progress of all high-graduation-rate institutions, those that have joined ATI have contributed disproportionately to this increase.

“Allegheny’s involvement in the American Talent Initiative reaffirms our longstanding commitment to ensuring that students of all backgrounds can experience a rigorous, empowering college education,” said Allegheny College President Hilary L. Link. “That tradition of access and opportunity has extended throughout the college’s 205-year history, and it will continue to be fundamental to our mission as we challenge students to consider multiple perspectives and integrate knowledge from different disciplines to become creative global problem-solvers.”

ATI, which is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and managed by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, has grown from 30 founding members in 2016 to 128 by the end of 2019 and includes flagship state universities, prominent liberal arts colleges, and every member of the Ivy League. Last year, 19 additional colleges and universities joined ATI, which now has 37 public and 91 private institutions. Allegheny College has been an ATI member since 2017. The initiative is also funded by the Gray Foundation and the Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation.

“We are excited to see colleges and universities significantly increasing access to all qualified students—no matter their family’s income,” said Jenny Sharfstein Kane, who leads the College Access and Success work at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “What’s more, we are learning the most effective strategies for opening these doors of opportunity. We salute the schools that are leading the way through aggressive, comprehensive approaches and will continue to push for even more progress ahead.”

There is a wide chasm in the United States between who gets a bachelor’s degree and who does not, and high-graduation-rate colleges and universities play an important role in closing that gap. Even though many thousands of lower-income students have the academic credentials to succeed at the hundreds of institutions with a graduation rate of 70 percent or more, fewer than half of students at those colleges and universities come from families in the bottom 80 percent of the national income distribution.

“As Allegheny’s national prominence continues to grow, we remain steadfastly devoted to making an Allegheny education attainable to talented students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences,” said Cornell LeSane II, Allegheny senior vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions. “We are proud to participate in the American Talent Initiative and join with some of the nation’s most respected schools in advancing opportunity and access to higher education.”

Data for the 2018-19 school year are not yet publicly available for all high-graduation-rate colleges and universities, and data collected from 120 ATI member institutions indicate that continued progress toward the goal is not guaranteed. While the majority of ATI schools increased Pell enrollment between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, that was offset by declines at other institutions. Overall, Pell enrollment at ATI schools stayed virtually the same over the year. The ATI institutions sustaining or making the most progress take a comprehensive approach to socioeconomic diversity: having a visible, concrete commitment to this mission and strategy among senior leaders and trustees; expanding beyond traditional pipelines of incoming students; prioritizing need-based financial aid; and making sure lower-income students have what they need to thrive on campus in an inclusive environment.

“The first two years of the Initiative demonstrate what is possible when colleges and universities make a concrete commitment to expand access,” said Daniel R. Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute and former president of Franklin & Marshall College, a founding ATI member. “Indications of a leveling off in the most recent year should serve as a call to action to sustain that commitment and to not lose sight of why this work is important to our institutions and our country.”

While the new data show a leveling off of aggregate progress, ATI leaders are optimistic that members will intensify their commitment to expanding opportunity. “We believe the results over the first three years of the initiative provide evidence that the initiative is having its intended effect,” the report says. “They also show that we need to keep our foot on the gas.”

“The ATI mission remains important because the nation needs talent from all backgrounds to thrive,” said Catharine Bond Hill, managing director at Ithaka S+R, which authored the report. “We are excited to share what we’ve learned from the colleges and universities featured in this year’s report, and we look forward to sharing new insights as schools incorporate more of these proven strategies.”