The American Talent Initiative (ATI), a campaign to enroll 50,000 more low- to moderate-income students at leading universities by 2025, appears to be on pace to hit its target, according to its latest progress report.
However, while the initiative has reached more than 40% of its goal, momentum has slowed in recent years, the report notes.
The report's authors suggest ways to improve institutions' progress, such as focusing on need-based aid and finding new student pipelines.
ATI was created in 2016 with the goal of adding 50,000 low- or moderate-income students, as designated by their receipt of the federal Pell Grant, by 2025, at some of the nation's most well-off institutions. It is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
When ATI launched, it identified 320 U.S. colleges and universities with some of the highest graduation rates and urged them to increase access for lower-income students. At least 128 institutions have since signed on to be formal ATI members.
To be eligible to participate in ATI, schools' six-year graduation rates must consistently be above 70%.
ATI reported that as of the 2017-18 academic years, those 320 institutions had added a total of 20,696 low- and moderate-income students. The group said institutions that had joined ATI contributed the lion's share toward this goal, amounting to about 62% of that progress.
But momentum has since "leveled off," the report notes. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, ATI members reported a net increase of just eight low- and moderate-income students. While some the members did experience enrollment gains among poorer students, others faced declines. The report notes that ATI lacks enrollment data for the rest of the 320 institutions to determine if the trend was widespread.
Lower-income students often succeed at selective institutions, though but few of them actually attend, according to a 2017 report from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard University-affiliated research group. The group wrote recently that spreading out low-income students among wealthier colleges could "substantially reduce segregation and increase intergenerational mobility," without changing colleges' programs or spending.
ATI members have developed strategies for expanding opportunities to low-income students, its report states, including prioritizing need-based aid.
Centre College, in Kentucky, boosted its Pell enrollment from 14% to 22% over roughly a three-year period after it increased institutional aid by more than 12%, according to the report.
Often, merit aid goes to students from higher-income families, who may already be able to afford college. One recent report from left-leaning think tank New America showed that four-year public institutions spent $32 billion in financial aid from 2001 to 2017. But $2 out of every $5 went to students who the federal government deemed as being able to pay for college.