The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is teaming up with eight elite institutions to pour millions into an effort to build the pipeline between two-year and highly selective four-year colleges.
The Cooke foundation, which focuses on assisting students with financial need, has already invested thousands of scholarship dollars to support individual students and recent alumni from community colleges who will pursue bachelor's degrees at four-year institutions. And it has seen results. About 150 students to date have received scholarships of up to $30,000 per year to attend four-year universities -- more than 95 percent of whom have graduated within three years of transferring, according to the foundation.
“There was no way I could have done it without the scholarship,” said Luckson Hove, 31, who transferred from Piedmont Virginia Community College to the University of Virginia after receiving an award from the foundation. “I had been accepted at Virginia before the scholarship, but planned to defer -- then this extra help came through. It made a big difference.”
Hove, who recently graduated with a 3.41 grade point average as an accounting major, grew up homeless on the streets of Zimbabwe before immigrating to the United States. He said that he saw countless smart, low-income students at his community college who could have gone on to success at four-year institutions with the proper guidance and financial support.
Organizers at the Cooke foundation -- with similar thoughts in mind -- last year announced a plan  to provide grants to selective institutions and sponsor research aimed at increasing the number of students who traverse that route. Today, Cooke officials are announcing that they are teaming with eight colleges and universities to invest $27 million to increase recruitment and financial aid for high-achieving low-income community college students, to help them earn bachelor’s degrees from selective four-year institutions.
The foundation is giving the institutions -- Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges, Bucknell and Cornell Universities, and the Universities of California at Berkeley, Michigan, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Southern California -- grants totaling $6.78 million. Recipients are expected to commit a total of $20.5 million in financial aid and other resources to expand or develop programs that reach out to and support students transferring from two-year colleges.
According to organizers, it’s the largest shared investment to date by leading colleges to overcome the lack of opportunities that low-income students who have attended community colleges have to enter and excel at selective institutions.
Joshua Wyner, vice president of programs with the Cooke foundation, explained that the partnership is important because community colleges enroll the majority of low- to moderate-income students who attend college. At the same time, he said, selective four-year institutions tend to focus recruitment and financial aid for low-income students on high school graduates, rather than those who might already be enrolled at a community college. They often have little aid left for students who transfer in.
Research commissioned by the foundation shows that more than one-third of community college transfer students graduated in the top two quartiles of their high school graduating classes. The more selective the institution, the more likely a student enrolled there is to graduate with a four-year degree, particularly if the student comes from a low socioeconomic background.
“These students usually don’t require a lot of remedial help,” said Wyner. “They are every bit as likely as the top low-income high school students to graduate on time."
The eight institutions -- which were chosen from among 48 respondents to the foundation’s request for proposals -- aim to develop a set of programs and practices to expand opportunities for low-income students to earn four-year degrees. Some of the institutions, like Amherst College, have expressed commitments to helping low-income students succeed, but haven’t fully pursued the community college pipeline. Others, like the University of Southern California, have relationships with community colleges, but officials would like to strengthen them.
As part of the initiative, said Wyner, each institution has promised to aggressively recruit, admit and offer scholarships to the best community college students and participate in an evaluation of their efforts. “All of the selected institutions were doing this a little bit, but they all want to be recruiting more lower income students, and doing better outreach to community colleges,” he said. “We felt that these institutions could help best leverage our dollars into showing the broader effects of admitting low-income community college students.”
Through these programs over the next four years, the eight recipients combined expect to enroll a total of 1,100 new community college transfer students from low- to moderate-income backgrounds and provide another 2,100 with college access information and instructional services. The institutions are also expected to create partnerships with more than 50 community colleges as they build and develop their transfer programs.