Apr 16, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
In December 2016, Bloomberg Philanthropies convened the American Talent Initiative (ATI). Its goal could not have been loftier: to, by 2025, add 50,000 low- and moderate-income students to the ranks of universities or four-year colleges with a six-year bachelor’s graduation rate of at least 70%. Low and moderate income is measured in terms of eligibility for federal Pell grants. There are 319 institutions that satisfy the ATI membership criteria and, by the end of 2018, 108 institutions had signed on to the challenge. Georgia Tech was among the first 30 ATI members.
Over the years, with increasing enrollments, Georgia Tech has been losing ground in terms of the percentage of Pell-eligible students. We are not alone among large public research universities, but that is not an excuse. To live up to our public university ideals we must be open and accessible to all high-achieving students, regardless of their families’ ability to pay the total cost of education, which includes tuition and living expenses. The reality is that we admit plenty of fantastic students who are Pell eligible, but they choose not to come. The overarching reason for their decision is lack of sufficient financial aid, beyond the Pell grant. We are now competing for the best minds with the best — and wealthiest — universities.
ATI is a call to action — each member university sets a series of goals. It is not all about money, but a forum to exchange best practices around recruitment and student-support services. For example, we know that rural communities are an underserved group. We know that the transfer mechanism is an effective way to recruit extraordinary students with a more diverse profile. We know that creating a sense of belonging is important to all students, but particularly to those who feel economically stressed or even out of place. Enrollment Services and the Admission Office at Georgia Tech do an extraordinary job and are constantly learning new ways to recruit a student body — from among the excess of qualified applicants — that fits our culture, is true to our origins, and faithful to our role as a public university. But at the end, money — need-based financial aid, specifically — is what makes the most difference.
By the end of 2018, about one-third of the members were public universities, and they enrolled two-thirds of the approximately 1 million students in the ATI member ranks. In other words, 700,000 students were enrolled in the 30 public universities and colleges of ATI. The goal of 50,000 students is just 7% of their enrollment. An investment in public universities is the easiest way to provide the opportunity to meritorious individuals with low to moderate family incomes.
As I mentioned above, transfers are a proven strategy to achieve the ATI goals. To put it in perspective, Georgia Tech enrolls more than 800 transfer students each year, while some of our private peers in ATI admit in the single, or at best double, digits for transfer students. A doubling of their transfer admission rate is in the realm of error in our numbers, we handle so many more transfers.
Another 750 Pell grantees at Georgia Tech would represent an increase of 5% in our numbers. By my calculation, we could achieve that number if we had another $7.5 million in financial aid. And I am guessing that all public institutions in the ATI could do at least that much for the same money, bringing 22,500 students to the educational system for about $225 million or a total endowment of about $4.25 billion, not much among all these large public institutions. Single private universities have received nearly half that much in single gifts.
The point is that money will go a long way to make universities more accessible to low- and moderate-income students. At Georgia Tech, we are one-third of the way, in time and money, of an effort to raise $150 million for financial aid. That effort is part of Initiative 2020 and is mostly in the form of an endowment that will help us enormously in achieving our commitment to the ATI goals — and helping hundreds of outstanding students realize their educational aspirations at Georgia Tech. I urge you to help us reach our goals by giving to the Initiative 2020 financial-aid effort.
- Rafael L. Bras