Students are always looking for ways to make college more affordable. Michael Bloomberg just helped. At least if you go to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. After already donating $1.5 billion to support research, instruction, and financial aid, Bloomberg just gave another $1.8 billion to be used for qualified low- and middle-income students.
Bloomberg’s goal is to allow the school to admit every talented student, despite their financial situation. He sees this money as being “need blind,” admitting students solely based on merit. Johns Hopkins will be able to offer much more generous student aid, replacing student loans with scholarship grants. The goal is to ease the debt burden on students and to make the campus more socioeconomically diverse.
Bloomberg From Humble Beginnings
Bloomberg’s grandparents were immigrants from Russia, and his father was an accountant for a dairy company. His folks didn’t have a lot of money, but he was able to make it through college in the early 1960s on a small National Defense student loan and an on-campus job. He credits this accessibility to college with allowing him to live the American dream.
Bloomberg notes that colleges now regularly bypass highly qualified applicants because of their ability to pay. At elite colleges, more students come from the top one percent of income brackets than the bottom 60 percent. This “perpetuates intergenerational poverty,” according to Bloomberg. He is committed to an America in which “every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit.”
Bloomberg also points to studies that suggest that half of high-performing low- and middle-income students do not apply to top colleges because they assume they will not be able to pay for it. Other studies have shown that elite colleges produce high-earning graduates, despite incomes prior to college. This points to the need for all students, according to Bloomberg, to have equal access to elite schools.
Though Bloomberg is donating his resources to just one school, he has advice for how the country can promote a more diverse, talented student body:
Bloomberg’s foundation has advised more than 50,000 students in a program called CollegePoint. The program assigns virtual counselors to low- and middle-income students. Advisors communicate via text, phone, email, Skype, and Google Hangouts and help students apply for, enroll in, and graduate from top colleges. Better advising can give applicants from diverse backgrounds more information and support in going to elite colleges.
More Progressive Admittance Standards
Institutions must expand access and opportunity for talented students at the nation’s top schools. These colleges have the highest graduation rates and reliably launch graduates into viable careers. Colleges must improve the recruitment and support of lower-income students. Institutions can learn from each other and contribute to research that moves the needle for nontraditional students at elite colleges.
Alumni should direct charitable contributions to financial aid, specifically to help with access for low- and middle-income students. Of course, not everyone has the resources that Bloomberg has. He urges those who have benefited from college to give back in large or small amounts. From $5 to $1.8 billion, he suggests, all amounts are helpful.
This is more than just an issue at elite schools. As the fallout from student loan debt has become more pronounced, many potential students are choosing to forego college and the student loan debt it creates. Bloomberg knows that individual efforts to enhance college affordability must begin with federal and state policies. The government can recommit to reducing the burden placed on families and students. No less than access to the American dream hangs in the balance.