UChicago Empower meeting goal of removing barriers to college access

One year after the University of Chicago announced its decision to increase access for a wide range of students through the UChicago Empower Initiative --an enhanced admissions process with increased financial aid and programming-the 2019-20 incoming class reflects record enrollment of students from underrepresented backgrounds. This includes increases in first-generation students, students from low-income families, veterans, rural students, and the children of police officers and firefighters.

The number of first-generation and low-income students who committed to attend UChicago has increased 20 percent, and enrollment of rural students has grown 56 percent. Empower scholarships and access programs for those who serve helped produce growth in the enrollment of veterans and the children of police officers and firefighters from across the nation. The expanded outreach broadened the impact of UChicago’s long-established financial aid and programmatic resources for students of high ability from underrepresented communities, resulting in a continued increase this year in the enrollment of African American and Hispanic/Latino students.

An expansion of UChicago’s commitment to access and inclusion, a core principle since the University’s founding in 1890, Empower was created to enable more students to pursue higher education, regardless of background, geographic location or ability to pay. The program increased financial aid and outreach efforts, and made UChicago the first highly selective college to make standardized tests optional in the application process. The significant enrollment growth supports the importance of intentional outreach to talented, ambitious students in underserved communities who might not otherwise aspire to attend a highly selective college.

"UChicago designed Empower based on our theory that more students of intellectual promise would seek higher education if we removed key barriers for applying to and attending college," said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. "We are pleased with the initial response, which validates the importance of maintaining the work of Empower. We look forward to welcoming our incoming class of scholars in the fall, and providing additional resources for more students of diverse backgrounds and geographies to achieve their academic and career aspirations."

Empower has built upon UChicago’s established access and affordability initiatives, such as UChicago Promise , which provides extensive outreach and advising to students in the city of Chicago, with full-tuition scholarships for hundreds of students attending Chicago Public Schools. The Neubauer Family Adelante Programs offer extensive financial support for engaging students involved in Hispanic/Latino communities and enable UChicago to host free information sessions in Spanish throughout the country.

This year, the University is expanding Empower with enhanced programming specific to Empower’s pledge to rural communities. Beginning in August 2019, the College will expand support for rural students and high school counselors with its new UChicago Emerging Rural Leaders Program. The program is made possible by University Trustee Byron D. Trott, AB’81, MBA’82, and his wife, Tina, longtime supporters of the University of Chicago and advocates of increasing college access for rural students.

The intent of the program is to reduce barriers to college for rural student and families by offering on-campus programming, mentoring, and financial aid that enables more rural students to pursue higher education at UChicago and other selective colleges and universities. In developing the programming and cultural activities, UChicago worked with rootEd Alliance , a collaborative, philanthropic effort addressing the most challenging obstacles to college and career success for students in rural America.

Key components of the Emerging Rural Leaders Program include:

  • Fully funded one-week summer sessions on the UChicago campus for 30 top rural high school sophomores to experience college life-such as academic classes and cultural activities-and to receive guidance on preparing for college.
  • Full-tuition scholarships for high school juniors from rural areas to attend a three-week UChicago summer session focused on individual academic areas of excellence and navigating the college application process.
  • Cohort-wide virtual support groups and expectations for students in the program to actively engage with and educate their peers to create a college-going culture at their schools.
  • Regional admissions information sessions from UChicago and other top peer institutions delivered in the local regions of partner high schools.
  • Free, yearly fly-in program to UChicago’s campus for high school counselors, principals and administrators from rural schools to learn about the College, opportunities available through the Coalition for College Access and other resources, such as scholarships.
  • New merit scholarships of $5,000 a year, for four years, to rural summer program participants who enroll at UChicago.
  • Guaranteed, paid (minimum $5,000) summer internships for rural students who enroll at UChicago.
  • Guaranteed free tuition, fees and room and meals for students from families with incomes under $60,000 and free tuition and fees for families with incomes under $125,000. In addition, the family farm is not considered an asset for financial aid purposes.
  • Receptions in rural communities, bringing together high school students and their families with current UChicago students, parents and alumni to learn about UChicago.

"Students’ economic resources and geographic location should not inhibit their access to higher education," said James G. Nondorf, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Chicago. "Through the Emerging Rural Leaders Program, we will empower more rural students to realize college is attainable, experience it first-hand at no cost and pursue enrollment with an understanding of the application process."

"Students from rural communities are the least likely to enroll in college of their urban and suburban peers, and also less likely to pursue highly selective institutions," said University of Chicago Trustee Byron D. Trott, AB’81, MBA’82. "As a first-generation college-goer from a small town, I am delighted to partner with UChicago to expand the opportunities available to rural students and broaden their perceptions of what is possible."

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