Two college presidents from Tacoma were at the White House on Thursday for a daylong summit on improving college access for low-income students.
University of Puget Sound President Ronald Thomas and Tacoma Community College President Pamela Transue took part in the summit, which included more than 100 college and university presidents from around the country.
President Barack Obama asked academic leaders attending the summit to bring ideas on how to help more low-income students enroll in college — and complete their degrees.
“There is this huge cohort of talent we’re not tapping,” Obama said, citing research that shows only 30 percent of low-income students enroll in college after high school and, by their mid-20s, only 9 percent earn a bachelor’s degree.
The summit followed protests from colleges around the country over a proposed federal college rating system that would rank their institutions based on the numbers of low-income students admitted, graduation rates and other criteria.
Recent studies from economists have found that bright students from poor families rarely apply to top-tier institutions with steep tuition costs.
Thomas announced a new initiative at UPS that will build on existing programs at the Tacoma campus, where tuition this year is $41,640.
Since 1995, the university has offered what it calls Puget Sound Access Programs, serving more than 1,000 middle school and high school students with enrichment programs in partnership with Tacoma Public Schools. Offerings include tutoring, a summer science and math program, mentoring by UPS students and financial aid information.
Beginning this fall, UPS aims to enroll between five and 10 new Access Program alumni each year. Thomas said in a news release that the university will expand financial aid and support “to open doors for talented local high school graduates who aspire to attend Puget Sound.”
UPS pledges to meet the selected students’ full financial need and offer other support to help ensure they graduate in four years.