UNC-Chapel Hill Wins $1 Million Cooke Prize

LANSDOWNE, Va. – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received the $1 million 2017 Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence, the largest award in the nation recognizing a college or university for its success in enrolling low-income students and supporting them to successful graduation.

“We’re honoring the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a national leader and role model for providing equal educational opportunity to students based on academic merit, regardless of family income,” said Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. “High-achieving, low-income students have proven again and again that they can excel at the most competitive colleges and universities when given the opportunity and needed financial aid. We owe them the opportunity to succeed and we owe ourselves the opportunity to benefit from all they can accomplish for our nation and the world with a higher education.”

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt said the university plans to raise $1 million in private funding to match the Cooke Prize and will use the combined $2 million to further expand its programs benefitting low-income students.

“We are deeply honored that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation selected Carolina as the 2017 recipient for the Cooke Prize for Excellence in Education Equity. We have long drawn inspiration from the guiding principles of the Foundation. Carolina is committed to living those principles as we strive for excellence and equity for students across North Carolina and far beyond our state’s borders,” said Folt. “As the nation’s first public university, access and opportunity are in our DNA. We know that when our student body reflects the most talented individuals, from all backgrounds, we are a stronger University and our state and nation become stronger as well. Carolina’s approach from recruiting to preparing these future leaders is comprehensive and deep. We are dedicated to providing our students with the tools they need to lead in the uncertainty that is certain to face them and rethink many of the very disciplines they studied while at Carolina.”

A study last year by the Cooke Foundation found that only 3 percent of students at top U.S. universities come from the bottom income quartile. At the same colleges, 72 percent of the enrollment are students from the top 25 percent income bracket. This dramatic disparity shows why action is needed to enroll more high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students in such schools, Levy said.  

UNC-Chapel Hill, which opened in 1795 as America’s first public university,is North Carolina’s flagship state university. It has about 18,500 undergraduate and nearly 11,000 graduate students, and ranks among America’s top public universities and top research universities. About 22 percent of undergraduates are eligible for federal Pell Grants that go to low-income students.

A recent Cooke Foundation study (LINK) calls on states to increase funding for their public flagship universities in order to give top moderate- and low-income students equal access to the public universities in their home states. The study found that many state universities are admitting growing number of students from out of state to collect higher tuitions.

UNC-Chapel Hill provides low-debt, full-need student financial aid and admits students on a need-blind basis. Its Carolina Covenant program provides debt-free financial aid for the lowest-income students.

The university awards 93 percent of financial aid based on need, and 44 percent of students get such aid. In addition to helping to pay for tuition, fees, and room and board, financial aid is available for travel, health insurance, personal expenses, books and supplies.

In addition, UNC-Chapel Hill operates outreach programs to low-income middle and high school students, bringing them to its campus to familiarize them with college life. The First Look program introduces low-income middle school students to the idea of college, building upon research that shows students who experience a college atmosphere by middle school are more likely to enroll in postsecondary education and to prepare for college while in high school. The Carolina College Advising Corps serves 23 percent of low-income public high school students in the state, employing 51 recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduates as advisers to help high school seniors identify and apply to colleges.

The university’s Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program partners with community colleges to guarantee admission to high-achieving, low-income transfer students and provides financial aid packages with little or no student debt.

This is the third year the Cooke Prize is being awarded. Vassar College received the prize in 2015 and Amherst College received it in 2016.

Other finalists for this year’s Cooke Prize were: Brown University; Rice University; Stanford University; and the University of California, Berkeley. All the finalists demonstrated thoughtful strategies as exhibited by the depth and breadth of programs on their campuses to ensure equity of experience for low-income students from admission through graduation.


The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also provided over $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students. www.jkcf.org

Cooke Foundation Media Contact: Amber Styles

UNC-Chapel Hill Media Contact: Kate Luck


Report Finds Flagship Universities Becoming Instruments of Social Stratification

LANSDOWNE, Va. – State funding cuts have prompted many public flagship universities to admit growing numbers of out-of-state students – sometimes outnumbering in-state students – so the schools can collect higher tuition, a new Jack Kent Cooke Foundation study finds. This prevents some qualified students, including those with moderate- and low-incomes, from gaining admission to the most prestigious flagships in their home states.

"Amazingly, at 24 public flagship universities out-of-state students represent at least 40% of freshmen enrollment," the study says. "At 11 public flagships, out-of-state students account for more than half of all freshmen. These so-called 'state' universities are misnamed and are increasingly not at all representative of their states." While data is only available for freshmen, it is believed there are similar differences in the percentages of out-of-state students in the later years of college as well. 

The Cooke Foundation study, by UCLA Professor Ozan Jaquette, calls on states to increase funding for their public flagship universities in order to give top moderate- and low-income students equal access to the public universities in their home states. It is titled: "State University No More: Out-of-State Enrollment and the Growing Exclusion of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students at Public Flagship Universities."

Many out-of-state students have lower records of academic achievement, according to the study. However, the out-of-staters usually have higher family incomes and are generally charged two or three times as much for tuition. As a result, many flagships "have become crass moneymaking operations" with admissions offices that "prioritize rich kids from out of state" who don't need financial aid, the study found.

The flagship universities with a majority of out-of state freshmen in the fall of 2015 were: University of Vermont, University of Delaware, University of Alabama, North Dakota State University-Main Campus, University of New Hampshire-Main Campus, University of Rhode Island, University of Mississippi, West Virginia University, University of Oregon, University of Iowa, and University of South Carolina-Columbia.

"This study exposes the unjust treatment very smart, hardworking students get when they're denied entry to their state flagship universities simply because they don't pay as much as out-of-state students," said Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. "Students should be judged and admitted based on merit, not money." 

State funding for public flagship universities was flat through much of the early 2000s and then dropped sharply when the Great Recession hit the U.S. economy at the end of 2007. While state funding has crept up in the past few years, it has not returned to pre-recession levels nationally. At the same time, the average net tuition at the flagships has risen sharply, and since the 2009-10 school year tuition has brought the flagship universities more revenue than state appropriations, the study says. 

"Unfortunately, legislators in many states have gutted state appropriations, even as state economies recover," the study says. "State appropriations must increase and funding models should meet the enrollment needs of the states, help subsidize the costs of educating moderate- and low-income students, and continue to subsidize major research endeavors."

According to the study, when state funding for a university goes down, the need for replacement funding pushes up admissions of out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. It says a 10 percent cut in state funding for public research universities was associated with a 5 percent increase in the enrollment of out-of-state students. 

The study also says that efforts of selective private colleges and universities to admit more low-income students will not accomplish as much as efforts of state flagship universities to achieve the same goal, because the private schools have much smaller enrollments.

Only 626,000 of the 23.6 million undergraduate college students in the nation attended selective private colleges in the 2014-15 academic year, including about 100,000 receiving federal Pell Grants for low-income students. In contrast about 2.6 million undergraduates attended public flagship universities, including 710,000 Pell Grant recipients.

The study concludes with a warning of what could happen if nothing changes: "Public flagship universities have been the primary agents for social mobility since the GI Bill was enacted in 1944. The state public flagship universities have assured that students were able to rise above their family's economic class. We are now tottering on the edge of many state flagship universities becoming instruments of social stratification."


The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The foundation has also provided over $97 million in grants to organizations that serve such students. www.jkcf.org

Media Contact: Amber Styles


$1 Million Cooke Prize Recipient Announced


LANSDOWNE, Va. – Amherst College in Massachusetts is the 2016 recipient of a $1 million prize awarded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to a selective college or university with an excellent record of admitting, supporting and graduating outstanding low-income students, Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy said today.

The Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence is the largest award in the nation given to an elite college for eliminating arbitrary barriers to admission and promoting the success of high-achieving students from low-income families.

“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,” Levy said. “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 said.

“We are honored to have been recognized by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for our efforts to make education accessible to talented students from low-income backgrounds,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin. “Our goal is to identify and nourish talent wherever it exists. It exists everywhere. While building on the remarkable progress Amherst made under President Tony Marx, we are now focused on closing the invisible opportunity gaps that students face once they arrive on campus. This prize will help us in that work.” 

Amherst is a liberal arts college with 1,790 undergraduates. It meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted students without requiring loans. The college’s admissions review is a need-blind process, including for transfer applicants and foreign students. A total of 58 percent of Amherst students get need-based financial aid and the college provides no merit aid.

In addition, Amherst provides low-income students with funding for educational travel and study abroad, stipends for otherwise unpaid internships and career development mentoring. It also has programs to meet the social, psychological and health needs of all students.

Amherst’s percentage of low-income students receiving federal Pell Grants has risen from about 15 percent in 2006-07 to nearly 25 percent in the current academic year. The college has also increased enrollment of community college transfer students – many coming from low-income families – from zero or one annually to 12 to15 each year.

“Amherst’s commitment to support high-achieving students with financial need has a long history, dating to its very inception,” Levy said. “The last two presidents, Tony Marx and Biddy Martin, have made this effort a cornerstone of their presidencies. It is an impressive legacy.”

In contrast to Amherst, a recent study by the Cooke Foundation found that only 3 percent of students at top colleges across the U.S. come from the poorest 25 percent of families. But 24 times as many – 72 percent – come from the wealthiest quarter of families.

Martin said Amherst will use at least half of the $1 million Cooke Prize to fund summer programs for its low-income students, including research with faculty, field study, arts training and internships. She said the college will also use funds from the Cooke Prize to recruit, train and pay students receiving financial aid to serve as financial aid peer advisers for transfer and first-generation students, supplementing work of its Financial Aid Office.

Because about half the students remaining on the Amherst campus during breaks are from low-income families, Amherst will create more programs during breaks to reduce their sense of isolation, Martin said.

Amherst was selected as the Cooke Prize recipient based on six criteria dealing with outstanding low-income students: outreach to attract such students; admissions; enrollment; financial aid; acceptance of community college transfer students; and degree completion.

Other finalists for the Cooke Prize were: Davidson College in North Carolina; Pomona College in California; Rice University in Texas; and Stanford University in California.

“Our finalists have shown great commitment and effectiveness in opening their doors to students with big minds and small wallets,” Levy said. “Many such students have overcome enormous obstacles and proven by their hard work, determination and intelligence that they can succeed at the most academically challenging colleges in our nation – but first they have to be admitted.”

The Cooke Prize was first awarded in 2015, going to Vassar College in New York. Vassar raised its percentage of low-income students (those eligible for Pell Grants) by 11 percent since 2008 – more than any other college ranked “most competitive” by “Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges.” About 23 percent of Vassar’s freshmen are eligible to receive Pell grants.


The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. It offers the largest scholarships in the U.S., comprehensive counseling and other support services to students from 8th grade to graduate school. Since 2000 it has awarded about $147 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 students and $90 million in grants to organizations that serve outstanding low-income students. www.jkcf.org

Cooke Foundation and CLASS host second annual Excellence Gap summit

Washington, D.C. - The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the CLASS Coalition, an association of principals from top-performing STEM and magnet high schools, are holding the second annual “Closing the Excellence Gap” summit February 24-26, 2016.

This year’s Summit will bring more than 100 principals and school leaders from top STEM and magnet high schools to the nation’s capital to discuss ways to better prepare students for success after graduation. The agenda for the Summit includes a Capitol Hill reception; working groups on building partnerships with postsecondary institutions, businesses, and community leaders; presentations on college admissions challenges and policies to better support low-income students; meetings with congressional offices; and a networking luncheon with top business leaders to promote better collaboration between schools and industry.

“The ‘Closing the Excellence Gap Summit’ is a one-of-a-kind event that brings school leaders from the nation’s best public high schools to D.C. to meet with policymakers, collaborate on innovative ways to help low-income, high-performing students succeed, and develop new strategies to ensure students are prepared for competitive careers after graduation,” said Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy. “Some of the brightest students in America come from low-income families; they deserve equal educational opportunities so they can fully develop their talents. Together with the CLASS Coalition, we’re working to remove barriers and help these students gain admission to the most selective high schools and study at the top colleges, both as a matter of fairness and because these students can help build a more prosperous future for our country."

"We’re very excited for our coalition members to have the opportunity to meet with and learn from other leaders of high-performing schools, and hope this year’s summit will result in better coordination and more opportunities for our students,” said CLASS Coalition President Crystal Bonds, who also serves as principal of the High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College in New York. 

Speakers will include Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Chris Lu, and Eric Waldo, Executive Director of First Lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher initiative.

The Math Revolution

"On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament."

Read More on The Atlantic.