The Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, College Park have joined a national alliance of U.S. colleges committed to increasing enrollment of "talented low- and moderate-income students" by at least 50,000 by 2025.
Under a new American Talent Initiative announced Tuesday, the 30 colleges and universities promised to improve recruiting and support for such students to help reach that goal.
"It's critically important that those pathways be open to students from every background," said Martin Kurzweil, a director at Ithaka S+R, a research and consulting organization that helps the academic community navigate economic and technological change.
Ithaka S+R, along with The Aspen Institute, an organization that promotes leadership and innovation, will manage the initiative, funded by $1.7 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
"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," Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term mayor of New York, said in a statement.
The initiative comes as local colleges and academic leaders work to remove financial barriers to a college degree.
"What sacrifices do these families have to make in order to help their students get through?" said Elisabeth Sachs, executive director of the Baltimore nonprofit Job Opportunities Task Force. "Is it transportation issues? Is it basic pocket money? Is it money for books? Is it child care?"
Job Opportunities Task Force is hosting a public forum with authors and researchers to discuss such barriers at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Maryland BioPark in Baltimore.
Stefanie Deluca, a sociology professor at Hopkins, studied high-achieving, low-income students and found some were enticed by for-profit trade schools.
"They see a commercial on television that says you can get a degree in 18 months," Deluca said. "These for-profit schools have low rates of completion. The tuition is a lot more than the kids realize. And the jobs that they have a chance to get are not as competitive."
America's top colleges enroll about 430,000 lower-income students, according to the American Talent Initiative.
"Our nation, our economy, and all our citizens benefit from nurturing talented young people from the broadest pool possible, including every community and socioeconomic background," Hopkins President Ronald Daniels said in a statement. "The university looks forward to working with our ATI partners to build on innovative initiatives like our Baltimore Scholars Program to ensure students have an opportunity to attend university and realize their full potential."
The scholars program has provided graduates from Baltimore city public schools free tuition if they earned admission to Hopkins. In March, Hopkins changed the program to also include free room and board to admitted students with families earning $80,000 or less, while capping tuition at 10 percent of family income for students whose parents earn between $80,000 and $150,000. Tuition at Hopkins' Homewood campus costs about $50,400 a year.
Initiative officials expect more of the nation's 270 colleges with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher to join in coming years to make the goal of enrolling 50,000 more lower-income students attainable.
The Bloomberg funding will be used to research methods to expand college opportunities, analyze data and convene the allied universities.