University Commits to Increasing Access for Local Low-Income Students

President Knapp participates in college opportunity summit at White House with President Obama.

January 21, 2014


President Obama stressed that a college education is a gateway to social mobility.

By Lauren Ingeno

In response to a call to action from President Obama, the George Washington University has committed to creating and expanding initiatives that will directly support high school students in Washington, D.C., helping them to attend and succeed in college.

George Washington President Steven Knapp joined more than 100 college presidents, as well as corporate and nonprofit leaders, for an all-day summit at the White House on Thursday, where every attendee committed to increasing higher education opportunities for low-income students.

The commitments are a part of the Obama administration’s wider efforts to narrow economic inequality in the United States—and that begins with ensuring that every American has an equal opportunity to earn a college degree, the president said on Thursday.

“We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America—the notion that if you work hard, you can get ahead, you can improve your situation in life, you can make something of yourself,” President Obama said.

Aligning with the president’s vision, GW will intensify its support to students in its own backyard, many of whom would be first-generation college students and may have difficulty navigating the college search and application process.

The university plans to assign admissions liaisons to underserved high schools, bring more local students on campus visits and host Saturday workshops for middle school students, so they see college as a possibility before they even reach high school. Additionally, GW will work with community-based organizations to host workshops on its campuses and at local libraries to provide students and their families assistance with applications for admission and financial aid.

“The challenge is to take all the best practices that you hear about and the many different examples that people are doing and figure out how to focus it and get some measurable results out of it,” Dr. Knapp said Thursday.

For the past decade, GW has offered fixed-price tuition, meaning an incoming student’s tuition will not increase for up to five years as long as he or she remains in good academic standing. The university has offered full-ride scholarships to top D.C. students for the last 25 years and launched an Early College Program with the School Without Walls, a D.C. public school. GW also partners with community-based organizations to provide campus visits and mentoring opportunities to low-income students.

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama praised the new commitments university leaders have made, all of which are intended to reduce the barriers that high-achieving, underserved students and their families face when applying to and attending college.

“Simply by building on what you’re already doing best, you can make real differences for these kids,” Mrs. Obama said. “And that’s what so many of you are doing with commitments you’ve made here at this summit.”

Both she and the president drew on their own experiences as high school students when addressing the unique challenges underprivileged students face when trying to get to college.

“I’m doing this because the story of opportunity through education is the story of my life,” the first lady said. “See, the truth is that if Princeton hadn’t found my brother as a basketball recruit, and if I hadn’t seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school—never.”

The Obamas, along with experts and leaders in higher education noted the important role community colleges play as a pipeline to four-year colleges.

In addition to GW’s new initiatives for local high school students, the university plans to develop partnerships with area community colleges, creating new pathways for high-achieving students to complete bachelor’s degrees. 

The GW School of Nursing already guarantees admission to students who have received an associate's degree from an accredited nursing program at a Virginia community college. Additionally, GW’s College of Professional Studies has a partnership with Northern Virginia Community College to help students pursue GW degrees in the STEM fields.

President Obama called the summit “just the beginning” and said he is planning for another in the future, hoping even more colleges, universities and business leaders from around the country will take part.