How—and why—Princeton tripled its share of Pell-eligible freshmen

In a little over a decade, Princeton University has dramatically increased the economic diversity of its student population, Nick Anderson reports for the Washington Post.

Administrators wanted to make the change because they realized that "If we're going to be excellent, we're going to need to bring in talent from all backgrounds," says Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber. Though they realized they couldn't solve all the inequalities in the world, Eisgruber adds, they did think they could "do a hell of a lot better."

Over the past decade, Princeton has taken several steps to recruit and retain more low-income students.

First, they increased financial aid. In 2001, Princeton switched to an all-grant, no-loan financial aid policy, meaning that the institution meets students' full financial need without asking them to take out loans.

Next, the school revamped recruiting and admissions. To expand their recruiting strategy, Princeton partnered with nonprofits that specialize in connecting institutions with low-income, high achieving students.

In admissions, the school trained admissions officers to spot talented students who may have turned in "less polished" applications. Additionally, Janet Rapelye, dean of admission, asked the financial aid office to help flag promising applicants who were likely to qualify for Pell as part of a more holistic application review. 

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Princeton also aimed to help first-generation and low-income students feel more welcome after they arrived on campus. The school now offers a seven-week summer bridge program, small grants to help with moving expenses, mentorship opportunities, and subsidized excursions.

Last year, Princeton joined the American Talent Initiative, a Michael Bloomberg-backed coalition of several institutions focused on collectively enrolling 50,000 more low-income, high-achieving students by 2025, Anderson reports.

The strategies have worked. As of fall 2017, Princeton has tripled the number of Pell Grant-eligible freshmen on campus to 22% (Anderson, Washington Post, 10/23).

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