How Can Obama Make More Colleges Act Like Amherst?

"Amherst College is one of the oldest, most selective, and most prestigious liberal-arts colleges in the country. It has also made a huge commitment to recruiting talented students from all backgrounds, regardless of their ability to pay tuition," the National Journal reports. "Today, nonwhite students outnumber white students on Amherst's central Massachusetts campus, and 23 percent of students qualify for federal Pell Grants. President Obama wants more selective colleges to act like Amherst. 'We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that's at the heart of America,' he told college presidents, nonprofit leaders and philanthropists at the White House last week. A college degree is the surest path to a middle-class life, he said. Yet elite colleges face powerful incentives to enroll disproportionate numbers of wealthy students. Low-income students cost institutions money, rather than bringing in revenue; they don't tend to boost a college's ranking; and they can lack the resumes some admission offices look for. ... Increasing access to top colleges isn't just a question of encouraging more students to apply, said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. 'Right now in the United States, there are not all that many schools that are need-blind and committed to meeting full need. So many schools are already rejecting talented low-income students because they can't make the commitment and don't want to make the commitment to pay the financial aid,' she said. Making a commitment to a financial-aid student not only requires committing a greater proportion of endowment dollars to grants; it also means forgoing the revenue that a full-paying student would bring in. Vassar reinstated need-blind admissions in 2007. After the financial crisis diminished colleges' financial assets, it became more difficult for many colleges to make that kind of commitment, Hill said. Amherst's experience shows that recruiting students from all walks of life is, in and of itself, expensive. To meet its diversity commitments, Amherst has expanded its admissions staff, introduced a scholarship fund for veterans, set money aside to support community-college transfers, and essentially given the admissions office an unlimited budget to fly in prospective low-income students for campus visits."

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