Nation & World

Harvard joins American Talent Initiative

3 min read

Coalition of colleges and universities seeks to attract, enroll, and graduate high-achieving, lower-income students

Harvard University has joined a coalition of 30 colleges and universities in a new initiative to expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates.

The American Talent Initiative brings together public and private institutions united in a common goal to enhance their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from each institution, and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities to expand opportunity.

“Higher education creates possibility. It opens opportunities for young people to explore the meaning of their lives, to understand the lives of others, and to discover interests and ambitions across a remarkable array of fields and disciplines,” said Harvard University President Drew Faust. “The American Talent Initiative will help to ensure that more of the most talented students in the nation have access to colleges and universities — and have the chance to realize their extraordinary potential to shape our country’s future.”

Aiming to welcome more of the 270 institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher over the next few years, the members of the initiative have set a goal to substantially increase the number of high-achieving, lower-income students that the participating colleges and universities attract, enroll, and graduate by 2025.

Participating colleges and universities will further the national goal of developing more talent from every American neighborhood by:

  • Recruiting students from diverse socio-economic 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; and
  • Minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

Members will share lessons learned as well as aggregated institutional data. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measurable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.

Catherine Bond Hill, Ithaka S+R managing director and former Vassar president, noted that “this Initiative speaks to fairness and equal opportunity for thousands of students who currently can’t claim either, and to the enormous societal benefit that comes from nurturing all of our most talented young people. Recent research suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors per year have SAT scores in the top 10 percent with 3.7 grade point averages or higher — and still do not attend the top 270 colleges. If each of these institutions commits to do its share, an additional 50,000 talented students — 12,500 in each grade level — will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned.”

The initiative 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 post-graduate 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 toward that goal. This is a vital first step toward creating a more meritocratic society,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and former three-term mayor of New York City.

This initiative is funded with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for research and dissemination of best practices, convenings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.