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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

GW looks local in effort to improve college access

Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Photographer
Sam Hardgrove | Hatchet Photographer

Updated: Jan. 16 at 3:35 p.m.

The University will expand efforts to help low-income D.C. students succeed academically, officials announced Thursday as part of a major campaign by the Obama administration to tackle college affordability.

Administrators will work with local schools and libraries to hold workshops on completing college applications and bring more young, local students on campus visits, GW announced ahead of President Barack Obama’s college affordability summit Thursday.

University President Steven Knapp joined about 140 higher education leaders at the White House to announce their academic goals to address the widening higher education gap. It was his first visit to 1600 Penn. Ave. since 2011, according to White House visitor logs.

“The challenge is to take all the best practices that you hear about and the many different examples that people are doing and figure out how to focus it and get some measurable results out of it,” Knapp said Thursday.

Knapp said he also hopes to expand GW’s partnerships, such the nursing school’s program that helps community college students earn a bachelor’s degree from GW. Dozens of other institutions made commitments Thursday that focused on community colleges, which enroll about 45 percent of all undergraduates nationally, though only about 15 percent earn a bachelor’s degree, according to Community College Research Center.

The University already hands out full scholarships to about 10 top D.C. high school students annually as part of the SJT Scholars Program. The scholarship fund has doled out more than $16 million in the District in the past two decades. Recipients of the four-year renewable scholarship have about a 90 percent graduation rate – much higher than the majority of low-income students across the country.

GW has one of the country’s highest sticker prices, and former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was dubbed “the high priest of runaway college inflation” last year by The Atlantic because of skyrocketing tuition under his presidency.

While tuition prices have continued to rise during the Knapp administration, 14 percent of students are eligible for low-income Pell Grants, up from 9 percent in 2008.

Obama’s ambitious higher education agenda is a key component of his “Year of Action” to shrink inequality across the nation.

“The premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in our American story but we don’t promise equal outcomes, we strive to deliver equal opportunity. Success should not depend on being born into wealthy privilege. It depends on effort and merit,” he said Thursday.

Colleges also need to ensure that low-income and first-generation students don’t get lost in the shuffle, First Lady Michelle Obama said.

She recalled her freshman year at Princeton University, when she bought the wrong sized bedsheets and said she wouldn’t have believed she could succeed if she hadn’t seen her brother do well in school before her.

She added that many low-income students bring “grit and resilience” that can make up for a lack of college advising and standardized test preparation..

“Just to make it to college, they have already overcome so much. We can’t think about their experiences as weaknesses,” Michelle Obama said. “Those are the exact skills they will need to succeed.”

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said Wednesday that there is not “a more clear ladder of economic mobility” than getting a college degree.

“We’re a country that the outcomes of your life shouldn’t be determined by the accident of your birth,” Sperling said. “We have to do much more as a country to give more young people the chance to succeed.”

A child born into the bottom-quarter of the economy has just a 5 percent chance of making it to the top quarter, he pointed out. But with a degree, the chances of making it into society’s upper echelon quadruple.

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