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Chancellor Carol L. Folt’s attendance at a day-long White House summit on college affordability this week reflects Carolina’s long-standing commitment to ensuring access to a high-quality education for students, Folt says.

“I was there because I believe in the importance, but I was also there because Carolina believes in the importance,” Folt says. “We are known for being deeply committed to this.”

Folt was part of a group of academic, business and philanthropy leaders at the White House on Thursday (Jan. 16)  to discuss making college more accessible to all students, including those from low-income families. Folt was also at the White House in October. That time, she was among roughly a dozen higher education leaders invited to talk about efforts to encourage more high-achieving, low-income students to apply to top colleges and succeed once enrolled.

As part of Carolina’s commitment to the new White House initiative, UNC-Chapel Hill announced three plans to help more students reach postsecondary education and succeed once they are there.

Carolina will double the size of the Chancellor’s Science Scholars program from this year’s inaugural class of 20 students to 40 students. The program aims to increase diversity among future leaders who want to earn higher-level science degrees.

“We have the capacity in the quality of our student body. We will have candidates that are perfect for it and we have a commitment on the part of the faculty and the people that run the program to do it so it was a natural for us,” Folt says.

UNC also will provide up to $4 million over the next four years to launch a university-wide initiative to improve graduation rates for all undergraduates, with a focus on low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students. The university plans to build on its graduation rates — 82 percent after four years, 89 percent after five years and 90 percent after six years – by enhancing coordinated support services.

Finally, Carolina will expand the Carolina College Advising Corps, which provides in-depth, near-peer college advising for high-school students. Ten additional recent UNC graduates will serve as college advisers during 2014-2015. That means 42 UNC advisers will serve 65 low-income high schools. The expansion is part of a state-wide initiative led by the John M. Belk Endowment and the College Advising Corps.

“Carolina has a lot of things going and I talked with people across campus about where we could make our most important impact because I was very interested in doing these things independent of this initiative, but it was an opportunity to bring them together,” Folt said. “It was actually a nice way to highlight it.”

The programs announced this week are in addition to others that show Carolina’s commitment to affordability and accessibility, such as the Carolina Covenant. Since 2004, more than 4,700 students have benefited from that program, which helps eligible low-income students graduate debt-free.

“UNC is a leader in access and affordability and excellence,” Folt said. “This is something to be proud of.”

Folt said one thing she was impressed with at the White House meeting was the commitment by all of the college and university presidents to making higher education more affordable.

“Every single person there lives and breathes education as the gateway to a new prosperity, as the great equalizer and really as the promise of America that your zip code is not your future. It is what you make through your education,” Folt said. “This was a meeting that allowed people who cared about it, lived it daily, to share ideas about how to really improve these educational prospects for people from low income.”

Published January 17, 2014.