President Obama Pushes More Economic Diversity In Higher Ed

A promise to try to attract more low-income students by strengthening relationships with high schools and community colleges, increasing access to advisors and offering more remedial programs, was made by more than 100 colleges and universities, including several in California. President Obama’s push for increased of college accessibility as one of his top goals led to those pledges.

Participants who had made commitments to further the effort were invited to the White House by the president. The best way to ensure more economic opportunity is through higher education, said Obama.

“More than ever, a college degree is the surest path to a stable, middle-class life,” the president said at the White House summit.

New incentives to push colleges to adopt programs that could reduce costs, such as offering three-year degrees, and proposed expanding an income-based student loan debt repayment plan were called for by the president last summer. Programs to attract low-income students who may not have had much exposure to higher education benefited the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, they both stated.

“I know that there are so many kids out there just like me — kids who have a world of potential, but maybe their parents never went to college or maybe they’ve never been encouraged to believe they could succeed there,” said the first lady, who went to Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

After being contacted by federal officials, several companies and nonprofit groups pledged additional funds for programs. According to Deborah Bial, the group’s president, the nonprofit Posse Foundation raised a mammoth $70 million that will provide scholarships to 500 students.

“That would not have happened if the White House didn’t call,” she said.

Increased diversity had already been made a top goal as claimed by a majority of college officials. However, the president’s encouragement is meant to help them work collaboratively.

“We have been working on this problem for a long time, but there are still many challenges,” said Claremont McKenna College President, Hiram Chodosh.

As Jason Song of Los Angeles Times reports, about 200 of nearly 1,300 Claremont students are black or Latino. Claremont plans to raise a staggering $100 million for financial aid and to recruit more students from middle- and lower-income families. Additionally, Chodosh said that administrators also plan to study how students perform academically after taking certain programs and classes.

According to officials, Pomona College officials intend to increase the percentage of students who receive Pell grants, which are aimed at lower-income students, and to accept more community college transfers.

The California State University system will spend $8 million to hire 70 more advisors on campuses with an additional $8 million to expand its summer program for incoming freshmen. The Cal States are working with community colleges and the UC system to create a way to track students as they move between their campuses, said Chancellor Timothy P. White.

“We’ve been talking about reinvigorating our partnerships,” White said.