January 16, 2014


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** Editor’s note: The college’s following efforts were covered or mentioned by several media outlets, including Bloomberg News, CNN Money, The Boston Globe, Radio Boston and the Daily Hampshire Gazette, among others.

WASHINGTON, D.C. —At a White House summit devoted to improving access and success for low-income students nationally, Amherst College President Biddy Martin today announced four new initiatives aimed at providing low-income students access to college and fostering their success in higher education at Amherst and beyond.

Building on the college’s unparalleled success at attracting and retaining low-income students of diverse backgrounds, Amherst will roll out four new initiatives that will (1) boost the number of Native Americans who go to college; (2) help low-income and disadvantaged students in Western Massachusetts get into college; (3) increase the proportion of low-income Amherst students who major in science and math fields; and (4) close the college experience gap between low-income students and the student body as a whole. The focus of the summit was on initiatives at various colleges and universities that have proved successful and have the potential to be more widely adopted. The summit was attended by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, city and state leaders, philanthropists and a select group of higher education presidents, among others.

“I am pleased that the White House has recognized Amherst for its success in recruiting low-income and underrepresented students, in making an Amherst education affordable for them, and for retention and graduation rates that equal those of the student body as a whole,” said Martin. “We are eager to take on additional challenges aimed at ensuring that all our students take advantage of high-impact learning opportunities at Amherst, while working with partners to increase the number of low-income students in our region who go to college.”

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Amherst President Biddy Martin

According to Martin, the four new initiatives Amherst plans to undertake include:

  1. Recruiting and graduating larger numbers of Native American students. Already a nationally recognized leader in attracting and retaining low-income and disadvantaged students through need-blind admission, full-need financial aid and no-loan financial aid packaging, the college has pledged more resources to finding, enrolling and supporting Native American students by partnering with College Horizons, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students succeeding in college. The college will host a College Horizons summer program that will match participating students with college admissions officers, college counselors, essay specialists and other educators in a six-day college admissions workshop focused on understanding the college admissions/application process. What’s more, the college will deploy its student “Telementors” to assist in these efforts; these young people, themselves students from diverse backgrounds who have been extensively trained in admissions and financial aid application procedures, guide assigned high school students through the college search, application and choice process of whichever institution they choose to attend.

  2. Doing more to help create a pipeline to college for low-income and disadvantaged students in the Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Amherst region. Leveraging the existing relationships, community-organizing skills and strong reputation of the college’s Center for Community Engagement, Amherst will convene community and educational leaders to consider how to increase the number of low-income and disadvantaged middle- and high school students who apply, are admitted and attend college—whether Amherst or other schools. The college will help to provide the resources to bring together local schools, colleges and social service agencies, as well as representatives from the private sector and local government to make this initiative possible.

  3. Increasing the proportion of low-income students and disadvantaged students who major in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Amherst will continue to examine the relative proportions of student groups on campus majoring in the STEM fields and analyze where there are gaps between low-income/disadvantaged students and students as a whole. The college will draw on successful programs in the departments of biology and math at Amherst, as well as those at other institutions, to close those gaps.

  4. Boosting the numbers of low-income and disadvantaged students involved with “high impact practices” shown to improve student success. Recent research has shown that young people who participate in study abroad and internship programs, write theses and/or conduct independent research with faculty supervision are more likely to be  engaged in college life and, as a result, more likely to succeed in college. Amherst will track student involvement in these initiatives so that the effects of the programs can be assessed and better understood.

“Our goal with these initiatives is to not only provide low-income students better access to higher education but to also offer them the best tools and training to succeed at college and beyond,” said Martin.

The college’s track record in the areas of higher education access and affordability has been widely recognized as one of the best in the country. For many years, Amherst has subscribed to a need-blind admission policy, and it meets the full demonstrated financial need of every student. In addition, since the 2008-09 school year, students are not required to take out loans as part of their financial aid awards, making Amherst one of just a few colleges and universities in the country that do not require students to acquire debt in order to pay for their undergraduate educations. As such, the graduation rates of low-income and disadvantaged students at Amherst are nearly identical to those of the student body as a whole.

Some numbers provide evidence of the college’s successes:

  • Currently, 60 percent of Amherst students receive grants-only financial aid packages and 23 percent are Pell Grant recipients.
  • Low-income students graduate from Amherst at about the same rate as other students—95 percent.
  • Of the students who transferred to Amherst since 2007, 65 percent came from community colleges. Of those from community colleges, 85 percent are low-income students.
  • The percentage of low-income students who graduated with a STEM major increased from 9 percent in 2008 to 32 percent in 2013.

“Amherst is definitely eager to share its expertise in recruiting low-income and disadvantaged students—we’ve got a terrific model and we are more than willing to discuss how it works,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tom Parker. “One thing is for certain, though: A college must have top-to-bottom buy-in and enthusiasm—from the board to the president to the students—for this to be successful.” 

About Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 37 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.