Pitt not included in White House initiative

When nine Pennsylvania colleges were invited by the White House to support low-income students striving for a college education, Pitt didn’t make the cut.

But the University says that it still aims to help prospective students who struggle financially.

“The University does have many programs in place to address the four initiatives announced by the White House,” Cara Masset, director of University news at Pitt, said.

Last month, the White House launched a national effort to increase college opportunity for financially challenged high school students at the College Opportunity Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. The effort invited universities, businesses, nonprofits and other foundations to make commitments to help low-income students striving for a college education.

“In response to the president’s call to action, the president and first lady are joining with leaders in higher education to announce more than 100 new commitments to expand college opportunity,” a January White House statement said.

Pennsylvania schools invited to the event included Carnegie Mellon University, Washington and Jefferson College, Allegheny College, Bryn Mawr College, Cheyney University, Franklin and Marshall College, Montgomery County Community College, University of Pennsylvania and Wilkes University.

Pitt was not on the invitation list, and according to White House Press Assistant Monica Lee, the White House invited schools that had made new commitments to expand college opportunity and graduation to the event. 

While the University wasn’t invited, Pitt has initiated efforts to address the needs of low-income high school students pursuing a college degree over the past several years.

According to Collegeboard.com, on average, Pitt students receive $12,039 a year in financial aid. In-state students pay $17,100 a year for tuition, and out-of-state students pay $27,106 a year. 

Masset said that Pitt’s College in High School program offers qualified high school students the opportunity to earn Pitt college credits during their regular school day.

To help underrepresented students, Pitt operates an Institute for Learning in its Learning Research and Development Center. The program, founded in 1995, uses a research-based curriculum to work with researchers and educators — including teachers, administrators, schools and districts — to implement practical changes, such as group work among students and open-ended questions, to help close the learning gap and promote high student achievement.

Pitt also has Investing Now — a pre-college engineering program started in 1988 through the Swanson School of Engineering — which focuses on preparing underrepresented students in science, technology, mathematics and engineering majors for admission at Pitt through tutoring, mentoring and workshops. 

According to its website, approximately 150 students between ninth and 10th grade participate in year-round programming in Investing Now. Programs include SAT preparation, financial aid workshops and career-awareness seminars, among others.

Alaine Allen, director of Investing Now, said in an email that, “The engineers, math and science undergraduates serve as tutors and assist with workshops, as well as hands-on science and engineering activities.”

According to Allen, graduate students assist with these activities, as well, and often serve as engineering project facilitators during the summer program.

“Students of any socio-economic level are welcome to participate,” Allen said. “In fact, it is refreshing to see students from a variety of different backgrounds and economic levels interacting with one another.”

Undergraduate students can also receive work-study opportunities, PELL grants, PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) grants and supplemental educational opportunity grants, according to Ken Service, vice chancellor for communications.

The White House invited other colleges in Pittsburgh to the summit,  all of which have implemented new initiatives to bolster college opportunity for high school students.

Sue Gaylor, executive vice president of Allegheny College, said the White House asked participating colleges to submit new commitments and information regarding existing programs.

Gaylor said Allegheny is in the quiet phase of a $100 million capital campaign that opened in 2012 and will be devoted to endowed scholarshipsAllegheny submitted this goal as its most recent initiative to the White House. According to Gaylor, the school hopes to make the campaign public within the 2014-2015 academic year.

According to Allegheny College’s website, the yearly tuition rate is $49,020.

“As we keep joking, it’s the worst-kept secret. Most of our alums and biggest donors already know,” Gaylor said.

In fall 2013, Allegheny also reinvigorated its VISA program — Volunteers in Support of Allegheny — which invites alumni to the admissions office to reach out and act as resources for prospective college-bound students to help them during their college search process by providing their advice and experience at Allegheny. 

Gaylor said Allegheny has instituted several outreach efforts to students concerning preparation for academics and ongoing academic success. 

Gaylor also said that during fall 2013, VISA program volunteers represented Allegheny at an additional 50 college fairs, compared to the 2012-2013 recruiting cycle, allowing Allegheny to reach new markets and schools it hadn’t before.

“It helps us broaden our markets in terms of recruiting students, but it also has a huge component in creating jobs and internships for current students,” Gaylor said.

Carnegie Mellon University will also be working with the White House to increase aid to its students. According to the College Board website,  both in- and out-of-state CMU students pay $47,642 and receive $33,972 in financial aid, on average.

Abby Simmons, a spokeswoman for Carnegie Mellon, said the university is expanding its programs to help more students from underrepresented groups and communities prepare for and successfully earn a university degree.

One of these programs is CMU’s Computer Science for All initiative, which the university is still in the process of launching. This new program will target K-12 students and teachers in outreach and mentorship programs to generate enthusiasm and engagement in computer science from all underrepresented groups, according to Simmons.

“This program builds upon the School of Computer Science’s Women@SCS program, which has provided leadership in recruiting women into computer science,” Simmons said.

Another program CMU will offer is the Gelfand Partners Initiative, which is an outgrowth of the Leonard Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach at CMU.

Simmons said the Gelfand Partners Initiative will bring a package of student education, mentoring, teacher professional development and experiential learning workshops to a targeted set of Western Pennsylvania schools that serve underrepresented populations. Among these populations are women, men, minorities and people with disabilities.

Located south of Pittsburgh, Washington and Jefferson College also joined the national effort, according to spokeswoman Karen Oosterhous. In-state and out-of-state students at Washington and Jefferson pay $39,710 in tuition each year and receive $30,9000 on average in financial aid. 

According to Oosterhous, Washington and Jefferson has added to its financial aid offerings with a Good Neighbor program, which meets the full financial needs of students in the seven surrounding counties, including Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland. This program is set to begin during the 2014-2015 school year, where students applying to W&J for next year can apply for this financial aid.

According to Oosterhous, W&J is paying for this program through donations from their large roster of alumni. 

“We are reaching out to qualified students in these areas to make them aware of this program and to encourage them to apply to Washington and Jefferson College,” Oosterhous said.

Oosterhous said the university will monitor its changes through student accomplishments and alumni achievements. 

“Too often, low-income students write off a school before they even apply, thinking they can’t afford it,” Oosterhous said. “We want these students to know that financial aid is available.” 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article stated that according to Ken Service, vice chancellor for communications, undergraduate students can receive FIA grants. The name of the grant was misspelled, as the correct spelling is “PHEAA.” The article has been updated to reflect this.