January 23, 2014
On Thursday, Jan. 16 President Joan Hinde Stewart travelled to Washington, D.C. to attend a summit on college opportunities hosted by President and Mrs. Obama. Over 100 different university and college leaders including other NESCAC presidents attended the summit. The primary focus was to increase opportunities for students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The summit brought together government officials and representatives of a wide range of institutions of higher education— research universities, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, ivies, public college systems, etc.—to discuss a matter of importance to our nation: college opportunity for students from low-income families,” President Stewart remarked.
As a part of the summit, President Obama introduced four broad calls to action. First, a dedication to increasing connections for low-income students to schools that are right for them and ensuring that these students complete their degrees. Second, increasing the pool of students preparing for college through early interventions. Third, leveling the playing field in college advising and test preparation. And, finally, seeking breakthroughs in remedial education.
Hamilton has worked hard recently to increase its financial aid budget, and in the last 10 years, the budget has grown by 85 percent. Along with this increase, the College went need-blind in 2010 and reallocated all merit aid to need-based aid. However, the school has recently dedicated new resources to meeting the hidden needs of disadvantaged students once they are on the Hill.
The school has recently introduced two programs designed to meet these needs: First-Year Forward and the Student Emergency Aid Society (SEAS). These two were announced at the summit in conjunction with the President’s call to action. These two programs have had a great deal of success in the short time since they have been implemented, but the school is working to increase the results. “We always know that we can do more and that is why we will seek to endow the First-Year Forward program and make sure we have the resources to sustain the SEAS initiative,” said President Stewart.
First-Year Forward is a career-center run program for 30-35 first-year students, often first-generation college students. The program is designed for students who demonstrate exceptional potential and financial need. These students participate in various activities designed to help them assess their strengths and interests, enhance their communication skills, develop a resume and explore career paths. Students receive a stipend to pursue a career-related experience the summer after their first year. As a part of its participation in the White House Summit, Hamilton has committed to raising $1.5 million to endow the program.
“Ensuring that we have the resources to admit the most qualified students to Hamilton and meet their financial need for all four years is our top priority. But we also care that all students have an equal experience at Hamilton,” said Monica Inzer, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid. With both the First-Year Forward program, and SEAS, which is a designated fund for low-income students to use in case of an emergency, Hamilton is working to level the playing field once students are at Hamilton. Additionally, Hamilton is collaborating with governmental agencies to enroll more students from low-income backgrounds.
The recent summit brought together a wide variety of higher education officials to discuss these issues, but more than that, it was a call to action from the White House. President Obama opened his remarks by saying, “we are here for one purpose: We want to make sure more young people have the chance to earn a higher education.” Hamilton has used its need-blind status as well as outreach to enroll more students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Ultimately the summit was just the beginning of the discussion.
“The conveners emphasized that last week’s meeting was the launch, not the destination, of this initiative,” said President Stewart.