Analysis: How Bloomberg’s $1.8 Billion Gift to Johns Hopkins Will Elevate the National Conversation About Helping First-Generation Students Complete Their College Degrees
The news of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s donation of $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University might be seen by most as just another billionaire giving back to his alma mater. However, there is much more to this story. Bloomberg’s contribution is part of a larger effort to improve college success rates for first-generation students, a breakthrough that has been largely overlooked.
For years, there have been few effective strategies to boost college success rates for low-income and minority students. While the number of these students enrolling in college has risen, their rates of earning degrees have remained stagnant. Instead of graduating, they often face disappointment and debt.
But things are starting to change. In my upcoming book, "The B.A. Breakthrough: How ending diploma disparities can change the face of America," I highlight three key factors driving this breakthrough:
1. Charter school networks that serve low-income students have made significant progress in ensuring their students earn college degrees. Even the lowest-performing charter networks have double the college success rates compared to similar students in traditional schools. The best networks have rates four or five times higher. What’s especially promising is that charter networks are collaborating with traditional school districts to share their strategies.
2. Colleges and universities are making a greater effort to admit and support first-generation students. For example, the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles now accepts thousands of community college transfer students each year, bucking the trend of ignoring these students. This change in attitude can have a huge impact, considering that thousands of community college graduates each year have high grade point averages.
3. There has been a lack of effective college advising for first-generation students, leading many to choose universities where they are unlikely to graduate. However, this is changing due to the growth of foundation-sponsored college advising programs. Bloomberg’s College Point counseling program, in particular, has already provided guidance to thousands of low- and middle-income students, helping them navigate their college options and secure financial aid.
Bloomberg understands the bigger picture, as he recognizes that many high-achieving low- and middle-income students do not apply to top colleges due to financial concerns, self-doubt, or a lack of awareness. College Point is just one example of the many organizations now offering smart college advising to students who have previously lacked access to such support. These initiatives are focused on making college a possibility for all students, not just those who fit the profile of elite universities like Johns Hopkins.
This breakthrough is real and likely to continue expanding. One indication of its significance is the recent change in college ratings formula by U.S. News & World Report, which now rewards schools that support the success of low-income students. As college ratings become more aligned with this goal, colleges will be motivated to follow suit.
While Bloomberg’s gift was extraordinary, the breakthrough in college success is just as remarkable. It is a step towards a future where all students, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to earn a college degree and achieve their full potential.