CMU, Allegheny, W&J prepare expanded opportunities for low-income students

Debra Erdley
| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 11:45 p.m.

Officials with Carnegie Mellon University, Allegheny College and Washington & Jefferson College announced Thursday they are launching programs to make it easier for low-income students to attend college and complete their degrees.

Presidents of those schools are joining officials from more than 100 colleges and universities for a White House summit on higher education, aimed at bringing educational leaders together with those of nonprofits, foundations, businesses and state governments to discuss expanding college opportunity.

The by-invitation gathering occurs as the Obama administration refines policy proposals to reward colleges for success in expanding access and affordability and increasing degree completion rates.

Allegheny College in Meadville said it will expand financial aid by making endowed scholarships a primary focus of its upcoming capital campaign. Allegheny College is in the quiet phase of its largest capital campaign in history, of which up to $100 million will be devoted to endowed scholarships — building on the $42 million Allegheny currently offers in financial aid to 90 percent of its 2100 students.

Washington & Jefferson College in Washington will commit to meeting full demonstrated financial need for all students from their seven surrounding counties who are eligible for PHEAA grants, a low income education assistance program in Pennsylvania, and who have a GPA of 3.4 or higher. The program will assist more than 100 students and will increase W&J's Pell-eligible student population by more than 30 percent.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh will launch a Computer Science for All initiative. Created by the School of Computer Science as an outgrowth of its Women in Computer Science program, this initiative, known as SCS4ALL, is developing a program of social and professional activities and leadership opportunities to broaden interest and participation in computing by underrepresented groups in Pittsburgh and other regions across the nation. SCS4ALL will target K-12 students and teachers and engage Carnegie Mellon faculty, students and staff members in outreach and mentorship.

Penn State University President Rodney Erickson, who declined to attend the summit and instead will meet with Penn State trustees, said he shares President Obama's concerns about college access and affordability.

“That said, I hope that universities such as Penn State, which traditionally have served a high proportion of first-generation and lower-income students with high retention and graduation rates, will be rewarded for that performance rather than penalized. If the outcome of the agenda is greater regulation for already high-performing colleges and universities, the desired outcomes will be more, rather than less, difficult to achieve,” Erickson said.

Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh and W&J President Tori Haring-Smith said their schools — with respective tuitions of $46,670 and $39,710 — long have provided aid and opportunities to low-income students.

As private institutions, those schools can route cash from students paying full tuition to give deep discounts to needy students, something typically prohibited or limited at public universities.

Suresh said Carnegie Mellon has extensive outreach efforts to engage “young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure that they are excited about and prepared for the challenges and rigors of postsecondary education.”

Haring-Smith said she looks forward to working to expand the reach of financial aid.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or

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