W&L seeks greater socioeconomic diversity through national alliance

W&L President Will Dudley comments on the university’s decision to join the American Talent Initiative

Olivia Cooper

Washington and Lee has joined an alliance of top colleges which aims to increase the number of high-achieving, lower-income students attending America’s best universities, W&L administrators announced in September.

Founded in 2016, the American Talent Initiative is now comprised of nearly 70 public and private American institutions of higher education—each seeking greater socioeconomic diversity in their student bodies.

Washington and Lee already offers the Johnson Scholarship and the W&L Promise to achieve similar ends, but participation in the national initiative further formalizes the university’s commitment to recruiting a greater number of low-income applicants.

“Evidence suggests that there are a pretty good number of very capable lower-income students who, for various reasons, are not attending schools of the caliber at which they could succeed [or] from which they would benefit,” said W&L President Will Dudley.

The initiative is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and is comprised of top-performing schools with the highest graduation rates. By 2025, the initiative’s member schools hope to educate an additional 50,000 high-achieving, lower-income scholars who might not otherwise have attended universities as distinguished as their potentials.

Dudley said he thinks there is an educational benefit to having a student body that includes a “healthy variety of backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives.”

“If you’re teaching a Philosophy 101 class, and you’re asking about the nature of the good life, you’re going to have a much better and more interesting conversation if you have people whose lives have been meaningfully different from each other,” he said.

Dudley emphasized that increasing diversity in top-performing colleges and universities is an important national challenge and he wants to make sure the university contributes to it.

“The American Talent Initiative is not a magic solution,” Dudley said. “But I think being a part of this, learning from other schools and being more visible as a school where this is important, can only help.”