Amherst College in Massachusetts has been awarded the $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence. The no-strings-attached award, given out by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, recognizes an institution’s accomplishments in enrollment, financial aid, academics and student support services for low-income students. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, was the inaugural winner of the Cooke Prize in 2015.
Amherst’s percentage of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants has risen from about 15 percent in the 2006-07 academic year to nearly 25 percent in the current academic year. Amherst has also been highly successful in recruiting a high percentage of African American students to its rural campus in western Massachusetts. In eight of the last nine years, Amherst has had the highest percentage of Black students in its entering class among the nation’s highest-ranked liberal arts colleges, according to the most recent JBHE Annual Survey.
This past academic year, there were 87 Black first-year students at Amherst. They made up a whopping 18.2 percent of the first-year class. This is largest percentage of Black first-year students at any of the high-ranking liberal arts colleges in the 22 years that JBHE has conducted its annual surveys.
Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, stated that “Amherst has shown unwavering resolve to become a national leader in expanding access to college for low-income students by dramatically increasing its financial aid budget, implementing aggressive national recruitment strategies and creating an environment where these students will thrive. In doing all these things, Amherst has proven that the goal of admitting and graduating increased numbers of low-income students with excellent academic qualifications can be achieved.”
“By awarding Amherst the Cooke Prize we want to call attention to the college’s success in lowering barriers to equal educational opportunity, and show other colleges and universities strategies they can pursue and steps they can take to follow Amherst’s example,” Levy added.