Dirks takes Berkeley model of improving college access to White House summit

At a summit of higher education leaders with President Obama at the White House Thursday, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks pledged to expand the campus’s already intensive efforts to enroll more low-income students and support them in their pursuit of academic success.

Berkeley, among all of American higher education, is a national model in attracting and graduating low-income students, and Dirks joined some 100 other college and university leaders, including UC president Janet Napolitano and two other UC chancellors, in promising to do even more.

Specifically, Dirks committed $500,000 in additional resources, and he pledged to visit 10 middle or high schools with elected officials this year to encourage early college awareness.

“While Berkeley is already a national leader in terms of the socioeconomic diversity of our student body and support for transfer students, that does not mean we are satisfied with the status quo,” Dirks said. “Expanding access to the unrivaled benefits and opportunities inherent in a high-quality college education is an indivisible element of our public mission, and we are fully committed to supporting this important initiative.”

Dirks and his fellow college and university leaders were invited to the White House by President Obama to shine a national spotlight on increasing access to higher education among low-income students. First Lady Michelle Obama, who has also spoken to the need for improving college accessibility, was to address the gathering as well.

National statistics show that low-income students are falling behind those from families with higher incomes, and all those attending the White House summit agreed to share their ideas and step up their efforts.

Berkeley, the top public university in the country, stands out for its accessibility programs for low-income and first-generation college students. The percentage of Berkeley undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grants for low-income students, 33 percent, is about double the percentage for the eight elite Ivy League schools at 17 percent. Pell Grant students at Berkeley outnumber all the Ivy League schools combined.

As a measure of their success, 84 percent of Berkeley’s Pell students who started in fall of 2006 graduated within six years.

Campus outreach efforts also have increased the number of students who are the first in their family to go to college — more than 25 percent as of fall 2010.

Since the 1970s, Berkeley has taken a variety of initiatives to increase college access and success for low-income students, mainly through the Center for Educational Partnerships. CEP administers more than a dozen major programs that include outreach, academic support and summer enrichment opportunities.

With Chancellor Dirks’ pledge at the White House Thursday, UC Berkeley will committing additional resources to expand several of its programs, including outreach and early college awareness efforts.

The Destination College Advising Corps will be expanded to place additional college counselors in under-resourced high schools to provide college advising and to help foster a college-going culture. Also expanding will be the Transfer Alliance Project, which provides intensive one-on-one advising, academic enrichment opportunities and application assistance to prospective transfer students at community colleges throughout California.

UC also will expand its efforts, Napolitano pledged Thursday. Systemwide, the University of California enrolls a substantial number of low-income students — 40 percent, compared to 23 percent for other selective public universities and 17 percent for selective private colleges.

“The promise that anyone, no matter how humble their beginnings, can have a shot at a high-quality college education is at the heart of what makes this country strong — and that’s what the University of California is all about,” Napolitano said. “I’m looking forward to sharing what UC is doing that works, discussing what else we intend to do and hearing other ideas on this important issue.”

Also attending the summit were UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland and UC San Diego Chancellorl Pradeep Khosla, according to UC.