Amid growing recognition of Franklin & Marshall's leadership in initiatives to help students prepare for and graduate from college, College President Daniel R. Porterfield joined college and university leaders from across the country Dec. 4 at the White House College Opportunity Day of Action.
As part of the summit, which featured President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden, F&M pledged to launch two innovative programs: a unique national collaboration to help as many as 125,000 students enroll and graduate from the country's top schools, and a plan to enroll and support a cohort of high-achieving undocumented students under new federal immigration law.
The event marked the third time Porterfield has been tapped for a leadership role among the college and university presidents participating in the ongoing College Opportunity initiative. Porterfield participated in a panel on access at the White House's first summit on college access in January, and he delivered remarks on STEM education in September at a White House-sponsored workshop on recruiting under-represented students into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Porterfield led a breakout session on STEM education at the Dec. 4 event.
"It's gratifying that the work of the F&M community is extending an inspiring message to others in higher education and public life," Porterfield said. "As we have invested in a talent strategy that benefits all students, we're showing other institutions it's possible to increase financial aid, enhance academic excellence and deepen the talent of the student body."
The breakout session was designed to encourage college leaders to share their ideas and success stories for creating greater access to math and science learning. The head of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy introduced Porterfield at the breakout session, saying that F&M is doing "very important work."
Porterfield told his fellow educators, "We all know the STEM fields are pivotal to American economic competitiveness, national security, public health, energy independence, job creation, and our ability to prolong the health and productivity of the older members of our aging society. To succeed, we need to draw the top talent from the full American mosaic, and from the full spectrum of the American economy."
This aligned with the call to action Obama issued to the more than 300 college and university presidents, nonprofit leaders, and higher education advocates who attended the White House summit.
"At the heart of the American ideal is this sense that we’re in it together, that nobody is guaranteed success but everybody has got access to the possibilities of success, and that we are willing to work not just to make sure our own children have pathways to success but that everybody does; that at some level, everybody is our kid, everybody is our responsibility," Obama said. "We are going to give back to everybody."
F&M to play strong role in Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative
For its commitments to action submitted for the summit, F&M will play a strong role among top colleges and universities from across the country in a new collaborative initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies to increase the number of high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students who apply to and graduate from the nation's most selective colleges and universities.
This initiative aims to directly help as many as 125,000 students apply to, enroll in and graduate from these top schools by providing support and guidance on the college and financial aid application processes. To help make this possible, the initiative will also engage college and university presidents and leading experts to spur changes in higher education policies and practices to increase need-based financial aid and low-income student enrollment, with F&M serving as a primary model.
Bloomberg Philanthropies is investing $10 million over the next two years and additional funds over the following years based on initial results. Other foundations are joining this effort, starting with the New York-based Heckscher Foundation for Children, which is committing advisory support and an additional $1 million over the next two years to support the project.
Together, these investments will support:
- A squad of well-trained advisors from College Advising Corps, College Possible and Strive for College. Franklin & Marshall College hosts the Pennsylvania College Advising Corps, a consortium of four Pennsylvania colleges, and commits to expanding the corps.
- Advisors who will be matched with high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students, identified primarily by the College Board, as well as by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
- Advisors who will guide students to institutions that support and graduate lower-income students at high rates, have strong financial aid policies and are a good match given students' level of academic achievement.
This is initiative aligns with goals that arose from the first White House College Opportunity summit. In his remarks that opened the summit, Obama praised commitments from colleges and universities that involved collaboration.
"You told us that colleges and universities want to work together on these challenges," Obama told the gathering. "So rather than settle for islands of excellence, we asked you to collaborate and build networks where you can share best practices, test them out, and get a greater collective impact."
F&M commits to respond to needs of undocumented students
In the second commitment made to the White House as part of the College Opportunity initiative, Franklin & Marshall will enroll a cohort of five high-achieving students from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program. Tens of thousands of young people brought to America as undocumented children graduate from high school each year, but despite the high achievement of many, their options for pursuing college education are extremely limited, Porterfield said.
The College will meet the full demonstrated financial need of the DACA students for all four years and provide faculty and peer mentors for their first two years. This initiative will be supported by a $250,000 grant from the Schusterman Foundation. F&M is expected to share best practices with other higher education institutions, given the growing pipeline in America of such students attending college in future years.
Throughout the White House event, Porterfield learned of other efforts taking place at other colleges across the country.
"We very much had a lot to listen to and learn about the work of all our colleagues from every type of higher education institution," Porterfield said. "I learned a lot from those colleagues about how their schools are partnering with local k-12 systems and communities."
Porterfield was proud that efforts at Franklin & Marshall continue to capture the attention of national leaders.
"I had the occasion to speak with the first lady one-on-one, and she told me: 'Your school is doing great work, and don't get tired, because there's a lot more to do,'" Porterfield said.
At the first College Opportunity summit in January, F&M pledged to: increase financial aid; decrease average graduate indebtedness; continue its participation in the national Posse Foundation's STEM Posse program that matches colleges with talented students from under-represented backgrounds who commit to major in the STEM fields; increase financial support for its Next Generation initiative that focuses on multiple aspects of ensuring access; and continue F&M College Prep, a summer program for under-served students.
The College has fulfilled and in some cases exceeded each of these commitments, most notably in the area of financial aid, which has increased 16 percent, and in lowering graduate debt. The average student-loan debt of F&M graduates has decreased 23 percent, from $33,200 for the Class of 2012 to a projected $25,465 for the Class of 2015.
In remarks to the breakout session on STEM education, Porterfield emphasized the life-changing importance of broadening access to math and science learning, noting the experience of F&M 1975 graduate and CEO of the Aerospace Corp., Wanda Austin.
"Younger versions of Dr. Austin are everywhere, but we have to have the vision to see them," Porterfield said. "They're in first grade, fifth grade, tenth grade, college and graduate school. They're men and women. They're rural, urban and suburban. They proudly come from all ethnicities and zip codes. Many were brought here as children and lack a secure legal status. They all deserve the chance to climb the educational ladder as high as their minds and hearts and spines will take them."