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Organizations Update Work to Expand Equity in College Access and Success

It's been six months since President Obama invited leaders of higher education, government, business, foundations, and nonprofits to the White House and asked for commitments to improve college opportunity for disadvantaged students.

The participants said they would expand mentoring programs, help families to apply for financial aid, encourage students to consider a wider range of colleges, ramp up college-readiness services, and provide enhanced campus supports for at-risk students—all voluntary pledges with no new legislation or funding.

So, what has happened? A few organizations provided a snapshot of their work to date recently at the school counseling and college advising meeting in Boston.

College Board: Beginning this fall, students who qualify to take the SAT for free because of their family income will receive four application fee waivers to use when they apply to college. Nearly 2,000 colleges have agreed to participate in this initiative.

iMentor: Matching first-generation college students from low-income public high schools with caring adults, this New York City organization committed to adding 20,000 new mentors in 20 states over the next five years. Nearly 4,700 have been recruited since the beginning of the year.

College Possible: This nonprofit has made good on its promise to expand to Philadelphia, with plans to serve 240 new students in four high schools this academic year. Currently operating in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Omaha, Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee, this organization helps low-income, first-generation high school students navigate the college admissions process. It is also developing a new virtual advising corps to offer online guidance.

CollegeSpring: Working to prepare low-income students for the SAT, this San-Francisco-centered nonprofit committed to increase the number of students served from 2,350 in 2013 to nearly 4,150 in 2015. This summer it opened its first office in New York and received a grant to expand services in the Los Angeles area.

Complete College America:This national network is working with states to reform the delivery of remedial education and get more students through college-level math and English classes their first year. So far, 22 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to a new "corequisite remediation" model, which assists students in gateway courses by providing additional academic support once they enroll in credit-bearing courses. (Officials at the Boston summit highlighted the example of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, where over three years the model is credited with raising completion rates in a gateway course in math from 9 percent to 52 percent.)

National College Access Network: In September, NCAN will publish its first annual national benchmarking report on college access and success programs, as it pledged in January. It is also developing an online platform with tools for counselors and is beginning to use texting to remind students of key college preparation steps.

The Obama administration is "thrilled" that the participants are following through on their commitments to help more high school students be college and career ready, said Eric Waldo, executive director of the First Lady's Reach Higher Initiative. This fall, updates from all who made commitments will be collected to highlight progress, he added.

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