Focus is on attracting talented students from low-income families
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

University of Iowa President Sally Mason was one of six university presidents invited to the White House Tuesday to discuss strategies for helping more academically talented students from low-income families attend college.

Mason and the others met with Gene B. Sperling, assistant to the president on economic policy, who asked the presidents to share examples of programs that have succeeded in encouraging college enrollment among low-income students.

The UI offers an array of financial, academic, and social supports to help undergraduate students succeed in college regardless of their background or income, including financial aid and more than 1,500 scholarships based on academic merit and financial need.

Under Mason’s leadership, the UI’s allocation for undergraduate scholarships and grant money has more than doubled, from $26 million in FY08 to $53.9 million in FY14. Almost 72 percent of that money goes to high-achieving students who also demonstrate financial need.

Additionally, last year, about 20 percent of the UI’s undergraduate student population—about 4,300 students in all—were awarded federal Pell grants, which are based solely on financial need.

Once on campus, underrepresented students, first-generation students, and students from low-income families benefit from a range of support programs and services through the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment in the Chief Diversity Office. One such program is Iowa Edge, a “pre-orientation” program that helps underrepresented minorities transition from high school to college, provides leadership training, and connects students with campus mentors.

Other campus programs include First Generation Iowa, which provides social, academic, and service opportunities for members to help students transition from high school to college and connect them with other first-generation college students across campus.

And Iowa TRiO offers outreach and support programs targeted to serve and assist low-income, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities, from middle school through post-baccalaureate degree programs.

Mason, a first-generation college graduate herself, says she welcomes the national attention being given to the value of higher education.

“We need to redouble our efforts to reach as many families as possible to help them understand how it is that you can afford to have a good public higher education,” she says in an article about the meeting in Inside Higher Ed. “That’s a message that honestly isn’t getting out there the way it should.”