College pledges to increase opportunities for low-income students as part of White House initiative: Plans include new STEM program, WellesleyPlus expansion and additions to the My inTuition financial aid calculator


Assistant News Editor

by Colleen Flanagan '15 Staff Photographer

by Colleen Flanagan ’15
Staff Photographer

This January, the White House hosted college presidents, nonprofit organizations and business leaders at a summit to discuss President Obama’s plan to increase access to higher education for low-income students in the United States. Wellesley was one of over 100 top U.S. colleges to have representation at the summit and submit plans to increase opportunities for low-income students.

In a recent college announcement, President Bottomly listed the three initiatives that Wellesley has committed to as part of the White House initiative. The College plans to launch a new program to attract more low-income students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, expand and enhance the WellesleyPlus program and continue to develop the My inTuition financial aid calculator.

Wellesley intends to encourage more low-income students to apply by improving and advertising My inTuition, the college cost estimator developed in September by Philip Levine, an economics professor. Approximately 17,000 people have viewed the calculator since its launch. The strength of the calculator, according to Levine, is that it doesn’t require the same time investment as other similar tuition calculators, such as the more in depth Net Price calculator on the Wellesley website, and is therefore a better tool to attract low-income students.The calculator is intended to dispel myths about who can and cannot afford Wellesley and encourage juniors and seniors in high school to consider applying to Wellesley.

“[The calculator] is not about getting an exact estimate,” Levine said. “It’s about getting a sophomore or a junior who is thinking about college to think, maybe I can afford it, maybe I can go to Wellesley … the details can come later.”

In its current state, the calculator provides a cost range estimate. In the future, Levine would like to see the calculator also provide information about a family’s expected loan burden.

Levine stated that main goal of the calculator is to encourage high quality applicants from all economic backgrounds to apply to Wellesley.

“People should not be avoiding Wellesley College because they can’t afford it,” Levine stated. “Our goal is to be able to attract the best possible students we’re capable of attracting regardless of their ability to pay.”

According to Levine, the formal financial aid calculation process is fairly standard across similar elite private colleges in the United States. Levine’s long-term goal is for College Board to add My inTuition to its website within the next 5 years.

The second initiative is expanding the WellesleyPlus program which supports first-generation students, many of whom are low-income, during their first year at Wellesley. Currently, the WellesleyPlus program includes a targeted first year seminar and writing class as well as a student mentor group. John O’Keefe, the director of advising and academic support services, explained that the number of students accepted into the program is constrained by the number of WellesleyPlus specific courses the College offers. In the future, the program will be expanded to provide spots for 36 to 45 students as opposed to the current 25 to 28. O’Keefe explains that the benefit of WellesleyPlus specific courses is that the students share a common background and the professor can tailor his or her teaching to the needs of the students.

“The professors are tuned into the fact that students are first generation college students,” O’Keefe stated, “There’s a little bit of intentionality to make sure that students are getting what it is to be a college student.”

Additionally, O’Keefe hopes to develop a four-week internship program in June similar to the Lumpkin service program to provide WellesleyPlus students the opportunity to work during the summer after their first year.

Finally, the College has pledged to launch a new program to attract low-income students to STEM fields. The program will include targeted introductory courses, stipends to encourage summer research with faculty and a mentorship program.

The White House report reads: “Building on Wellesley’s signature liberal arts approach, the program will provide a pathway to and through the sciences, exposing students to exciting, question-based research in their first semester.”

Evelyn is a sophomore studying economics and political science. She is a proud Canadian. Follow her on Twitter @etaylormcgregor.

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