More middle-class Americans attending top-tier US colleges

While college costs are on the rise – putting many top choice institutions out of reach for the average American family – one program is helping to boost top college prospects among the middle class.

Since the launch of a program called the American Talent Initiative (ATI) in 2016, which is backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, more than 100 of the nation’s top colleges have pledged to accept more lower-income students.

And so far, the group says its efforts appear to be working.

ATI said on Monday that a higher number of lower-income Americans are receiving federal grants to attend the nation’s most revered higher education institutions – reversing a downward trend.

Federal Pell grants, which are generally awarded to families with incomes below $40,000, are used by colleges to measure the proportion of low-income attendees. ATI focuses its efforts on those students, as well as others coming from families with slightly higher incomes.

Of the 96 schools that shared data, Pell-eligible enrollees increased to about 217,540, from 210,250 throughout the program’s first two years.

One-hundred and eight of the nation’s top colleges and universities have joined the program, which aims to graduate 50,000 lower-income students by 2025. Among those schools are Princeton University, Yale University, Amherst College, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Michigan.

ATI says 296 colleges are eligible to enroll. In order to qualify, schools must have a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent.

Bloomberg Philanthropies donated more than $4 million to the group. But schools are responsible to cover the costs of scholarships and other programs for the lower-income attendees.

The median tuition and fee price for full-time students attending a private nonprofit four-year school in the 2018-2019 school year was $36,890, according to the College Board, while those attending out-of-state public four-year institutions faced tuition and fees valued at an estimated $21,370.

The average American family spent $26,458 on college tuition during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a report from Sallie Mae, a financial services company specializing in student loans.

Meanwhile, levels of outstanding student debt continue to skyrocket – reaching a record $1.465 trillion last month, according to data from Bloomberg.