In 1818, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his colleague Joseph Cabell about his life-long desire to create “a system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest.” Jefferson believed education is the great human equalizer and the foundation of personal advancement. We have seen this play out repeatedly over the years, as many students have come to UVA from disadvantaged backgrounds and, empowered by the knowledge they acquire here, go on to positions of prominence and leadership in their careers and communities.
To strengthen this commitment, we have developed a comprehensive strategy to aggressively recruit, support and graduate high-achieving high school students who need financial assistance. Our strategy is based on research by UVA faculty members Sarah Turner and Ben Castleman. Ms. Turner’s research examines the reasons that high-achieving, low-income teens choose not to enroll in the nation’s top colleges, and Mr. Castleman’s research focuses on the ways we can support prospective first-generation college students throughout the application process. Together, their research provides a dual approach to helping talented students enroll at UVA.
As part of our strategy, we will identify high-achieving students who are qualified for admission to UVA and send personalized messages to help them understand the realities of college cost, need-based financial aid and net price. We will continue to provide practical information and individualized guidance throughout the application and financial aid process. As another facet of the strategy, we will strengthen our partnerships with high schools in low-income areas and with local and regional college-access organizations that work closely with at-risk students. We will also provide opportunities for students to visit the University for free, and arrange for these students to meet with peer and faculty mentors.
This new strategy builds on our existing efforts to foster socioeconomic diversity at UVA.
Since creating AccessUVa in 2004-05, UVA has promised to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for our students. AccessUVa remains one of the most robust financial aid programs in the nation.
We continue to reach out to students through partnerships with college-access groups and other organizations. Specifically, in the past year we developed partnerships with the Posse Foundation in Houston, the Mastery Charter School in Philadelphia and the Achievable Dream organization in Newport News. These are in addition to long-standing partnerships with the national organization Questbridge and with the College Bound Initiative in New York City.
UVA launched the Virginia College Advising Corps in 2005, originally called the College Guide Program, to improve college access for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students in Virginia. The Corps places recent UVA graduates in high schools throughout Virginia to assist students with college applications, financial aid, scholarship searches and the transition to college. Our financial aid office trains these counselors and gives them ongoing support. Thirteen advisors from UVA are now serving in 16 high schools throughout Virginia.
We also reach into schools where younger students are, to connect with them earlier in their lives. UVA’s Engineering School has several programs that focus on K-12 initiatives, many directed at underrepresented students. For example, we are among 30 universities that host an annual summer science camp for rising sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from underrepresented groups. This is a free, residential, two-week STEM-focused summer camp where students participate in projects that help them get excited about working in STEM fields. We have another three-week residential camp for rising 10th- and 11th-graders who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They do hands-on, team-based research in biomedical, civil, chemical and mechanical engineering. We are currently developing a summer leadership program for high school juniors to introduce them to UVA while developing their leadership skills, and the program will include scholarships for low-income students.
Because of these and many other efforts, students from all backgrounds are able to succeed at UVA. Our graduation rates remain among the best in the nation, with a six-year graduation rate of 93 percent for all students and 83 percent for low-income students.
We want our student population to be both high achieving and diverse, because this enables our students to learn from peers whose experiences and perspectives are different from their own. This diversity helps them challenge their preconceptions, and prepares them for life in a complex global economy.
Donors are stepping forward to help us in this effort. In February, we announced a $4 million challenge grant from John Griffin, a 1985 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce and a member of our Board of Visitors. John’s gift will establish a new scholarship program to benefit incoming undergraduate students with exceptional promise and significant financial need. The first $1 million of Griffin’s grant will benefit incoming students in the Class of 2018. The next $3 million will help grow the endowment for financial aid. The total grant is conditional upon matching funds from donors, with the goal of raising a total of $8 million.
When he was conceiving plans for the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams about promoting a “natural aristocracy of talent” to replace the “artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth.” We sustain this vision as a central element of the University’s mission by building tomorrow’s aristocracy of talent today, one student at a time.