Eye on the future: Increasing Access

WHAT: Making a Penn education attainable to all talented and hardworking students regardless of their economic circumstances is a commitment President Amy Gutmann made when she launched the Penn Compact in 2004. Since then, despite one of the worst economic downturns in modern history, Penn has ensured that undergraduate students who qualify for financial aid can graduate without facing a mountain of debt.

NO LOANS: Penn’s all-grant, no-loan policy allows students to get financial aid that they will not have to pay back. “Families have had a hard time making ends meet over the past several years, and it’s difficult for us to believe that adding debt to those students’ [lives] is the right thing,” says University Director of Financial Aid Joel Carstens. “I know President Gutmann is proud of the fact that we have not waivered on that commitment, and we don’t intend to waiver on that commitment.”

TOUGH TIMES: The deflated economy has resulted in a significant increase in the overall number of students requiring financial aid. During the 2005-2006 academic year, the number of institutional grant recipients at Penn was 3,836, or 37.1 percent of the undergraduate student body. But during 2011-2012, the number of undergraduates receiving grants was 4,585, or 44.2 percent. “We’ve responded to the need our families have had during the economic crisis,” says Carstens. “And as we are starting to pull out of the economic crisis, we are still providing assistance and our commitment is very strong that we will continue to do so.”

HIGH PRIORITY: Since 2004, Penn has increased its undergraduate financial aid budget by 129 percent, to $181 million. Through gifts from friends and generous donors to the Penn’s Making History campaign, the University has raised $327 million for undergraduate financial aid. Carstens says previously about 5 to 10 percent of the University’s financial aid expenses came from endowed funds. Today, more than 20 percent comes from the endowment.

INCREASING ACCESS: Because a diverse campus community enriches the educational experience for all, Penn strives to attract exceptional students from a wide range of backgrounds. Currently, Penn is partnering with two programs that reach out to academically accomplished students who may not have a family history of attending college, or may not think an Ivy League education at an institution like Penn is available to them because of limited finances: QuestBridge and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program).

BRIDGE TO SUCCESS: QuestBridge, explains Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, is an organization that identifies high-achieving students living in low-economic circumstances and connects them with selective universities’ admissions offices. It is sort of like the matching process that occurs at medical schools, he says. The QuestBridge program is dedicated to helping exceptional students get into exceptional schools. “It is a rigorous screening process,” Furda adds. In May 2013, 60 QuestBridge students will graduate from Penn.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Penn is the first Ivy League school to partner with KIPP, a network of 125 charter schools across the nation that has helped more than 3,000 students from underserved communities get into, and graduate from, college. Under the partnership, Penn plans to enroll 12 to 15 “KIPPsters” each year. In October, Penn received a $2.5 million gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh of Los Angeles to help underwrite financial aid for the KIPP students admitted to Penn, and offer them targeted support once they get to campus. Penn alumnus Mike Feinberg (Class of 1991) is a co-founder of KIPP and Philadelphia is home to four KIPP charter schools.