We were asked to join the American Talent Initiative (and were thrilled to say “yes!”) in part because we are a high-achieving university (with graduation rates well in excess of the 70 percent minimum), in part because we were willing to make a commitment and set our own goals to increase enrollment and graduation of low- and moderate-income Americans, and in part because we are seen as a university that has unique contributions to make to the collection of best practices in this important domain.
We are among a diverse set of 96 private and public institutions committed to a sustained collective effort to dramatically increase educational opportunity for these talented youth. We are enhancing our own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, while learning from each other and contributing to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunity.
The coalition, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and coordinated by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, has a shared goal of enrolling an additional 50,000 qualified low- and moderate-income students in the top 270 U.S. colleges and universities by 2025. I think it’s doable. I also think it is a necessity.
Over the last year, we have worked with ATI staff to set our goals as part of the collective and to share some of our own innovative practices, including the Flyer Promise program, the UD Sinclair Academy, and the no-fee, fixed-net-tuition program. These programs are not only removing barriers for students in our Dayton community, they are at the heart of the ATI mission. I was happy to share our vision at the Bloomberg offices for the annual meetings of presidents — from Princeton and Harvard to Davidson and Franklin & Marshall to Michigan and Ohio State.
The varying perspectives — from big and small (50,000 to 1,000), public and private, hyper-elite and competitive — enriched our conversations. We listened to each other and openly shared our observations, hopes, and concerns in an honest, transparent forum.
To borrow from “Hamilton,” I felt like I was in the “room where it happens.” The degree of commitment of these higher-ed leaders is inspiring, the set of practices in place and under development across the country is promising, and the combined power of these universities and colleges is overwhelming.
The effort to ensure that, as a society, we educate lower- and moderate-income Americans is essential to our freedoms and our future. We must succeed as a collective, and UD must succeed individually in what is an important race for talent.
Eric F. Spina is president of the University of Dayton.