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UC Irvine leads in nationwide effort to get more lower-income students into top colleges

UC Irvine enrolled nearly 900 more Pell grant recipients between the 2015-16 to 2017-18 academic years, leading the nation’s top colleges, according to a report released Monday, Dec. 17.

The university estimates that 37 percent of its undergraduates receive Pell grants, which are federal scholarships for students from low-income households. That too is among the highest in the nation, the university said in a press release.

The report is an update by the American Talent Initiative, a group of more than 100 top colleges in the nation, including UCI, founded in 2016 that are pushing to enroll more students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds. The group wants 50,000 more of those students to attend top colleges by 2025, saying a college diploma is crucial to economic and social mobility.

“Higher education institutions have an obligation to reach out to overlooked communities and create a pipeline for them,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in the university’s release.

The report especially praised the university’s effort in enrolling more transfer students from community colleges – UCI added 1,000 more new transfer students for the start of the 2017 school year than it had for 2015.

The university’s vice provost for teaching and learning, Michael Dennin, attributed the success to UCI’s growing reputation for academic prestige, as well as the university’s student support programs such as its Freshman Summer Bridge, which puts new students on campus for six weeks in the summer to better prepare them for the college environment.

“Reputation builds on itself,” said Dennin, who is also the dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education.

UCI is retaining and getting Pell grant recipients through graduation at a rate that is less than its non-recipients, Dennin said. About 85 percent attending UCI using the scholarship graduate within six years, compared to 49 percent nationwide, the university said.

Much of the growth in the enrollment of the Pell grant recipients mirrors an overall rise in UCI’s undergraduate numbers. The university enrolled nearly 3,800 more undergraduates in fall 2017 than in fall 2015, according to its data. 

“The last couple years has been very tricky,” Dennin said of how the university has been able to fund those new students. “We’ve been able to make it work, but class size is a little bigger than it needs to be.”

Dennin said he doesn’t expect the raw number of new Pell grant recipients to continue going up as quickly.

He said the main goal now is to support those students so they graduate and thrive by helping with their cost of living and reforming approaches to teaching.

“We want to make sure faculty, in the way they teach, really embrace and understand the challenges students face,” he said.

Source: Orange County Register

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