January 30, 2014
While President Obama focused primarily on political hot-button topics such as reducing income inequality and reforming America’s immigration system in Tuesday’s annual State of the Union address, he also noted an issue directly involving Hamilton: ensuring that colleges increase both educational access and graduation rates for low-income students.
More specifically, the President referenced his “College Opportunity Summit,” a Jan. 16 event attended by 140 college leaders, business people, foundation heads and nonprofit executives with the goal of expanding higher education opportunity through means outside of federal legislation. President Joan Hinde Stewart attended this event and committed Hamilton to President Obama’s lofty goals, telling The Spectator last week, “We always know that we can do more… this meeting was the launch, not the destination, of this initiative.”
While private four-year institutions like Hamilton are only one of many college options in America, accounting for just 14 percent of total undergraduates, we nonetheless remain responsible for doing what we can to improve economic mobility and educational opportunity within our small jurisdiction. In the past several years, Hamilton has pushed toward this end, most notably demonstrated by the school’s monumental decision to go need-blind in admission in 2010, reallocating merit-based financial aid to more critical need-based aid. Moreover, Hamilton has increased its financial aid budget by 85 percent in the last ten years. Today, around 50 percent of Hamilton students benefit from need-based financial aid in some manner.
In addition, recent administration initiatives have strived to not only make a high-quality Hamilton education more affordable, but also to both retain students from lower-income backgrounds once they arrive and send them off to excellent careers once they graduate—goals President Obama also articulated at his College Opportunity Summit. Admittedly, Hamilton’s four-year graduation rate of 85 percent is better than the national average of 59 percent, but Hamilton should strive to place itself at least in the 90th percentile. As such, the administration deserves praise for recently committing more endowed funds to the Student Emergency Aid Society and to the First-Year Forward initiative—a Career Center-run program that seeks to provide additional advising resources for 35 first-years that demonstrate exceptional talent and need.
More work, however, remains to be done to improve educational opportunity on the Hill. As The Spectator has argued in the past, continuing to increase student internship funding is critical for allowing students of all economic levels to gain career-related experience without having to worry over living expenses and, in turn, graduate with higher chances of employment.
Additionally, recent research by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Christopher Avery of Harvard demonstrated that only 34 percent of high-achieving students in the bottom income quartile attend selective colleges versus 78 percent of high-achieving students in the top income quartile. Even though excellent colleges like Hamilton offer generous financial aid packages for students who demonstrate need, those students are often unaware of such opportunities. For the good of both America’s and Hamilton’s future, we must do a better job of reaching out to such students through alumni and the administration.
Hamilton’s student body has blossomed over the last decade to include talented individuals from across the country, globe and economic spectrum—but we should set higher goals for ourselves than previous generations did, reaching toward the lofty goal of placing merit paramount over wealth or family background.