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U of M launches new initiative to improve first-year retention of low-income students

Retaining all Our Students announced as part of White House summit on expanding college opportunity

January 16, 2014

Media note: On Thursday, Jan. 16, President Obama and the First Lady will hold an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity. This event runs from 8 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. CT and will feature college and university presidents, including U of M President Eric Kaler, as well as leaders from nonprofits, foundations, state governments and businesses across the country. The event will be streamed live on Media interested in interviewing U of M students who are Pell grant recipients should contact Julie Christensen at or (612) 626-1720.

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler today announced a new initiative, "Retaining all Our Students" (RaOS), focused on improving the first-year retention of low-income University students, defined as Pell grant recipients. The four-year program is expected to impact close to 5,000 students on the Twin Cities campus.

"The University of Minnesota is committed to paving the road to prosperity for young people with limited means," said Kaler. "We’re all in. We intend to lower the barriers for low-income students to attend the U and obtain their degrees. This is about changing their lives by helping to set their career paths in motion."

Eligibility for Pell grants, money the U.S. federal government provides for students to pay for college, is determined by financial need, and the Pell grant program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. The University of Minnesota’s new RaOS initiative was announced as part of Kaler’s participation in today’s White House summit on expanding college opportunity, hosted by President Obama and the First Lady.

Annually, approximately 21 percent of undergraduate freshmen at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (more than 1,100) are Pell grant recipients. Although the campus has significantly increased the first-year retention of undergraduate students over the past decade (from 85 to 90.4 percent), there is room for improvement when it comes to retaining low-income and first-generation students. Current first-year retention (from the freshman to sophomore years) is 90.4 percent for all incoming freshmen, but the rate is 86.9 percent for students who are Pell grant recipients.

Kaler said that RaOS will build on the success of existing University of Minnesota efforts such as the President’s Emerging Scholars (PES) Program, the U Promise Scholarship and the University’s extremely successful financial literacy program, "Live Like a Student Now (So You Don’t Have to Later)." Established in 2013, the PES Program enrolls nearly 500 students, or 10 percent of the University’s freshman class. A majority of the participants are low income, students of color and/or first-generation students. The U Promise Scholarship, which started in 2007, provides more than $30 million annually in scholarships to more than 13,000 low- and middle-income undergraduates enrolled on U of M campuses system-wide.

"What sets this new University of Minnesota initiative apart, coupled with our long history of engaging and supporting students with limited means, is our top-notch financial literacy program," said Kaler. "Our new commitment will include specifically tailored educational materials that focus on the financial planning and information needs of low-income students and their families."

Research indicates that low-income students are less familiar with how to find scholarships and other financial support, are less comfortable with taking out loans and are less familiar with on-campus employment opportunities. As a result, they are more likely to drop out of school or delay the completion of their degrees due to financial constraints.

Kaler said RaOS will be built around four components:

  • Financial literacy: An enhanced financial literacy program specifically designed to meet the needs of low-income students and their families;
  • Summer seminar: Incentives for low-income students who are also part of the PES Program to participate in a summer bridge program prior to their first college semester;
  • Enhanced advising: The development of better tracking tools for advisers to more closely monitor academic progress during the critical first year;
  • Peer tutoring in key courses: Further leveraging U resources to provide peer tutoring support for students in key, foundational courses such as math, economics, chemistry and writing, and providing specialized training for peer tutors.

University officials expect to have all four parts of the initiative operating by fall 2016, with the newly enhanced financial literacy components in place by summer 2014.

Twin Cities Campus: