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Talent Quest aims to increase socioeconomic diversity

The increase in first-generation college students accepted to the College this year - 20 percent more than last year - can be attributed in part to the success of the Talent Quest program, University officials say.

The share of first-generation students in the admitted class of 2011 increased to 15 percent, up from 12 percent last year.

Talent Quest, the University's effort to attract students from schools in low-income areas, "has been a very helpful program for us, creating interest in Brown among first-generation students," said Dean of Admission Jim Miller '73.

"We talk about diversity broadly, and socioeconomic diversity is certainly an important part of that effort," Miller said. Miller said Talent Quest has heightened the Admission Office's "collective sensitivity to issues" that lower-income students face.

The Talent Quest program began in mid-2002. Associate Director of Admission Andrea van Niekerk, who coordinates Talent Quest, created a list of 120 secondary schools that are likely to have a core of talented, low-income students. The list changes from year to year, and admission officers visit Talent Quest schools in their geographic area and encourage students to consider applying to Brown and other selective schools.

"When you're thinking of increasing the representation of any particular group on campus, it is always a long-term project. It really takes years to come about," van Niekerk said. "One of the great things for us is we're beginning to see that," she added, noting that this year, "there is sort of a visible sense of the greater socioeconomic spectrum in our applicant pool."

Talent Quest schools tend to be located in urban and suburban areas, with particularly high concentrations in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Providence. With eight Talent Quest schools, Providence has the largest cluster of any city.

Van Niekerk's initial list included several affluent preparatory schools - Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., among them - because they enroll high numbers of low-income students on scholarship. Van Niekerk said she later replaced the prep schools with public schools to refocus efforts on students with fewer resources.

Through the Talent Quest program, admission officials recently began working with a number of community-based organizations that focus on sending low-income students to college. These organizations include the TEAK Fellowship in New York City, Young Scholars in San Francisco and Upward Bound in Rhode Island. The program also covers travel expenses for admitted students from Talent Quest schools who cannot otherwise afford to attend A Day On College Hill, Brown's annual spring program for admitted students. This year's ADOCH was held last week.

There were 160 students from Talent Quest schools in this year's admitted class, up from 121 students last year. Of those admitted last year, 68 matriculated.

"Pretty much every admission officer is involved in one way or another," van Niekerk said. "The idea is to have it sort of entangled with every other aspect of what the Admission Office is doing."

Van Niekerk said she would like to incorporate Talent Quest into the Watson Institute for International Studies' Choices Program, which designs curricular materials for secondary schools and holds training seminars across the country for high school teachers.

"Recruitment and matriculation (of low-income students) is an effort that every school that I know of like Brown has committed to. We're not unique in that regard," Miller said.

"There is real talent among students in that group," Miller added. "For a long time Brown was not seen as a viable alternative, so I think we were wasting the talent from a whole segment of American society."

In recent years, selective schools have taken measures to increase their socioeconomic diversity. In March 2006, Harvard University eliminated tuition payments for parents earning less than $60,000 a year. Harvard, Princeton University and University of Virginia decided to eliminate their early admission programs next year over concerns that the process gives an unfair advantage to affluent students.


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