- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The signs are everywhere, from the BMWs parked on campus, to the students’ designer cell phones, to the number of families paying full price even as tuition and fees climb past $40,000. The most prestigious colleges overwhelmingly are attended by the wealthy.

It’s a problem that colleges are speaking about more frankly and have tried to address with more financial aid, but with only mixed success. At the most selective schools, a 2003 study found, just 3 percent of students came from the poorest socioeconomic quarter of families, while 74 percent came from the richest.

Now, a small group of selective colleges is turning its attention to what may be an untapped reservoir of able, low-income students: the 6.5 million people who attend community colleges. Historically, those students have been ignored by elite colleges, which recruit mostly at high schools and often accept few or no transfers because they want to offer a distinctive four-year experience.

Five well-known private colleges and three highly selective public schools — the flagship campuses of the Universities of Michigan, California and North Carolina — announced plans Monday to accommodate a total of about 1,100 more community-college transfer students from low- to moderate-income families over the next four years.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will contribute about $7 million for support programs, while the colleges will spend more than $20 million of their own money on support programs and financial aid.

The private schools participating are Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Bucknell University, Cornell University and the University of Southern California.

Though the numbers amount to a relative handful — with University of Southern California taking by far the most transfers — the hope is that the variety and prestige of the schools involved will persuade others to take a chance on students who have started at two-year schools.

A 2005 Department of Education study found that more than one-third of 12th-graders in 1992 who went first to a community college and earned more than 10 credits eventually transferred to a four-year college. But few go to the most selective schools.

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