Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, is the inaugural winner of the $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence. The no-strings-attached award recognizes an institution’s accomplishments in enrollment, financial aid, academics and student support services for low-income students. About one quarter of Vassar students qualify for federal Pell Grants, which are reserved for students from lower-income families. This is a 11 percentage point increase since 2008.
“We need to find solutions to the issue of a lack of socioeconomic diversity on our competitive college campuses, and to stop wasting the talent and potential of high-ability students who could be making great contributions to this country if only they were afforded the opportunities of their wealthier peers,” said Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. “We hope this prize will encourage other institutions to follow Vassar’s strong leadership in creating college access and success initiatives.”
Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, said that “currently in the U.S. the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree depends to a large extent on a person’s family income and race. This must change for our country to live up to its principles of social advancement for all. This is an extraordinary prize and vote of confidence for Vassar’s commitment to affordability and accessibility for all qualified students.”
President Hill said that the prize money would be used to expand orientation programs to help low-income students transition to campus life, for student scholarships, and to fund internship programs for low-income students at Vassar
The latest U.S. Department of Education data shows that Blacks make up 6 percent of the nearly 2,500 students at Vassar College.