UCLA has long addressed issues of educational access and opportunity. So when Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the American Talent Initiative (ATI) in 2016, UCLA was one of the first universities to become a member. To date, 100 diverse universities and colleges have joined ATI — whose aim is to bring together 296 colleges and universities that consistently graduate at least 70 percent of their students in six years — to expand access and opportunity to lower-income students.

“This initiative is so consistent with our values and our mission as a public institution,” says Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA vice provost for enrollment management. “The opportunity to collaborate on a national effort was one we were excited about.”

Research shows that each year, at least 12,500 students from low-income backgrounds have SAT scores in the top 10 percent and GPAs of 3.7 or higher, yet do not attend a top college. In fact, many never even apply because of lack of information about options, confusion about costs and inadequate financial aid.

Together, ATI members aim to attract, enroll and graduate an additional 50,000 students from low- and moderate-income backgrounds by 2025. They also will contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand access.

“Still, too many of our highly qualified students don’t have access to top colleges and universities,” Copeland-Morgan says. “We need diversity of backgrounds and thought to solve the most critical problems that we are faced with as a society.”

In addition to the Early Academic Outreach Program, established in 1976 by the University of California to reach out to educationally disadvantaged students, UCLA recently developed a text-based, online outreach platform targeted to low-income middle school students. The program, Project Welcome, inspires and helps students prepare to be competitive college applicants — and to instill in them the belief that they can go to a top school. The university is also addressing the higher attrition rates for students from low-income backgrounds, aiming to close the college graduation gap. Earlier this year, ATI recognized UCLA as an “exemplar” institution for its successes with transfer students.

“These students are capable not only of coming to UCLA, but of thriving here. At the end of their time at UCLA, they feel inspired to do incredible things and give back to society at large, as Bruins have always done,” Copeland-Morgan says, pointing out that she was the first in her family to attend college. “I think ATI is going to make a difference,” she says.