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Cornell joins national effort to expand college access

Cornell Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth will join President Barack Obama and higher education leaders today as the White House announces continuing commitments to expand college access for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students, and help them prepare for and complete college.

Two Cornell contributions to the president’s initiative will be announced at the second College Opportunity Day of Action in Washington, D.C. “Cornell’s commitment to college access is based on partnerships spanning college preparation and readiness, undergraduate achievement, and degree completion,” Knuth said of the university’s proposal, submitted to the White House by Associate Vice Provost A.T. Miller.

To “achieve academic equity across all demographic groups,” the university is implementing pedagogical initiatives to support students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to achieve in and complete degrees at rates similar to STEM students from majority groups.

Through an initiative at the College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell is revising and redesigning eight introductory physics and biology courses, which serve about 1,600 undergraduate students per year and are key prerequisites in a variety of engineering and life sciences fields. Results will be shared through the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) – a network of 22 universities preparing graduate students and postdoctoral scholars as future faculty adept at using evidence-based learning innovations for diverse learning communities – and through the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

“Preparing a future professoriate committed to teaching and learning innovations will improve persistence in STEM disciplines and enhance academic outcomes for students in all disciplines,” Knuth said. “The impact of Cornell’s innovations will be magnified nationwide by dissemination throughout the CIRTL network and CGS, building on President Obama’s goals.”

Revising the gateway courses is a strategy building on ongoing efforts to increase the pipeline of underrepresented students as STEM faculty and professionals, Miller noted.

“Cornell aims to see a notable increase in performance and retention among low-income and underrepresented students in these fields, [and] expects to expand this course overhaul effort to additional departments and colleges in the coming years,” the proposal says.

The university also is implementing a comprehensive college readiness program, “New Pathways to Full Participation,” in collaboration with New York 4-H. The program is intended to double the number of high-achieving, low-income, rural youth who become first-generation college students.

Cornell will reach out to 180,000 4-H youth with age-appropriate messages and activities to keep them on track for college participation. The project will follow a projected 9,000 students on their paths to higher education through first-year and transfer admission, and will work programmatically with the subset of those students who enter Cornell over the next five years, Miller said.

As “Trailblazers at Cornell,” students in the New Pathways program who enter as freshmen will take part in specialized programming throughout their undergraduate programs. Admitted transfer students will receive advising while still at their previous institutions to ensure readiness to participate in research, off-campus study/internships, living-learning experiences and community service.

The daylong education summit in Washington is gathering college presidents and higher education leaders from across the nation with new commitments to college readiness and completion. The Obama administration plans to announce new steps to support these efforts, including a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college.

The event, to be live-streamed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, will feature remarks from the president, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden; panel discussions and breakout sessions.

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz