President Barack Obama briefly discussed his plan to make higher education more accessible to low income
families in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address. Twelve days prior, the president and first lady hosted a College Opportunity Summit, in which Goucher President Sanford Ungar and over 100 other college and university presidents were celebrated for solidifying their commitment to the cause.
“The White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education –and help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus,” President Obama said in the State of the Union address.
Prior to the event, Ungar, along with the senior staff and Noel-Levitz, the college’s enrollment management consultants, drafted a statement stating Goucher’s commitment to Obama’s initiative. According to Goucher’s “In the Loop” blog, President Ungar released the following statement: “Beginning with this year’s admissions cycle, Goucher will meet a higher level of financial need through scholarships and grants for appropriately qualified students. High-achieving, low-income students will have 78 percent of their need met through this program, and low-income students with more modest credentials will have 60 percent of their need met.”
Michael O’Leary, the vice president for enrollment management, said that the new initiative will help the college attract the “best and brightest students to Goucher.”
“When you move into the high-need category of students, those with stronger academic credentials will have a higher percentage of their demonstrated need met by gift money than those with weaker academic credentials. Not to suggest that they are weak students; they are still admitted to the college,” O’Leary said. “But we essentially wanted to identify a way to make a place like Goucher more attractive and more affordable for the high achieving, high need student. We will be doing that by meeting a greater percentage of their demonstrated need through gift money.”
The financial need will be met through institutional funds, such as merit scholarships and Goucher grants, also known as need-based grants.
Later in his State of the Union address, President Obama said,“ We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.”
Although Obama did not specify on the types of incentives he plans to present colleges, O’Leary hopes that they will involve increased federal financial support “whether through federal work study moneys, whether through Pell grants, loan amounts for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans.” O’Leary also noted that “the government in recent years has not been in a position in increasing those numbers.”
O’Leary reaffirmed that the college’s commitment to the White House directive comes at a time when the demographics of students attending college are changing. He explained that colleges like Goucher need to readjust their aid to accommodate a higher number of low-income students who are preparing to attend college.
“The cost of higher education continues to go up with no end in sight,” O’Leary said. “The demographic of high school students is changing as well. We are now seeing a decline of high school graduates in the United States. The decline is largely in the historic college-going population. And where the numbers are increasing, it’s in the population that has historically not gone to college. And it is in a lower socio-economic part of society. So we have to address those issues now if we are going to be successful and viable in the future.”