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College joins American Talent Intiative to attract more diverse student body

<rlier this year, Carleton announced plans to join the American Talent Initiative (ATI), a move meant to increase the representation of low- and middle-income students at high-performing colleges.
The American Talent Initiative, in the words of Dean of Admissions Paul Thiboutot is “a new joint enterprise arising from the interest of Bloomberg Philanthropies” that focuses on “bringing together [high-quality] institutions to share data and best practices on how we can attract more low-to-modest income students.” 

According to Thiboutot, the ATI’s research suggests that “there are a quarter of a million students that are under-matched, or could be attending [higher-]quality institutions than they do.”
Therefore, the high-quality institutions involved in the initiative have “formulated a kind of working group to raise the question ‘can we have more talented first generation and low income students attending some of the top-quality institutions in the country?’” 

The ATI’s standard of what defines a “top-quality institution” is simply based on graduation rates, with no membership dues or other obligations for members. Thiboutot expressed high hopes about the Initiative’s future benefits for Carleton recruiting and the community as a whole. 

“The sharing of data and best practices can help us attract more low-income students and help us all learn from each other.” He believes that the ATI “will potentially reach students, who look at this and say ‘What are these institutions that are reaching out to me?’” 

Thiboutot has broader hopes, as well: “We hope [the Initiative] catches the eye of other groups, such as the government. By centering on this issue, we raise awareness of it, and hopefully other kinds of things, whether it’s governmental kinds of things, community based organizations that relate to these [issues]. You don’t address problems without raising awareness.” 

Brisa Zubia, director of the Office of Intercultural and International Life, agrees: “When we talk about the prestige of Carleton and we talk about the assumptions or the misconceptions of who attends private liberal arts institutions, I think this can definitely touch on the need for us to open doors for, to partner with and to give equal opportunity to all students.  So is having Carleton on this list of partners of value beyond just our school? I definitely think it is. And hopefully other institutions that view us highly will jump on the bandwagon and see the value of partnering, as our admissions office did.”

Thiboutot additionally stated that “research that shows there’s a higher propensity of finding members of what we can define as more diverse populations either based on race or ethnicity having greater proportions in low socioeconomic, modest-income ranks than in other income ranges. One then can hope and assume that if one focuses on the socioeconomic ranks, one will be identifying more ethnically diverse potential students.”

Zubia found this to be a potential positive for on-campus diversity as well. “I think that it’s great to be willing to offer an opportunity to individuals who might not otherwise be given such opportunities. We’ve offered opportunities to low-income underrepresented students and granted access to an institution such as this one. Programs such as these would only heighten those efforts.”

However, a complicating factor remains. While the definition of low income is fairly unambiguous in relation to being anything below the poverty line, middle income is fuzzier, and means something quite different at Carleton than in the U.S. as a whole: according to The New York Times, the median household income for Carleton families was $172,400 last year, in contrast to the median U.S. household income of $59,039.   

The ATI, Thiboutot says, “does not attempt to define what middle income, or what modest income might be. They haven’t attempted that. It’s up to the schools.”  

According to Thiboutot, “we define middle income in a certain way for Carleton based on some other national studies like Pew research. We borrowed from it, we did not use their exact definition, but ended up defining a general middle income range, that doesn’t necessarily correlate with middle income in the United States, but does tie to having to pay for an expensive private institution. We allow that middle income is a range between $40,000 and $160,000.” Ultimately, there is no cap on the definition of middle income. “We define middle income as anyone who absolutely would need help,” Thiboutot added, “and people above $160,000 might need help, so it’s an artificial break to allow us to measure.”
Thiboutot believes the initiative will be of use in many ways in spite of this disparity: “[The ATI] itself in raising awareness of these issues, as well as data sharing, is fine. It’s just starting.”  

“I think the impact will be there” says Zubia. “Whether we’re looking at diversity, underrepresented students, first-generation students, different regions planning to study here, Carleton definitely needs to be aware of expanding on resources needed to support these students. Is Carleton ready for that challenge? I believe so.” 

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