Mason one of 28 schools leading the way by admitting and graduating low-income, high-achieving students


George Mason University has earned the American Talent Initiative (ATI) High-Flier distinction as one of 28 colleges or universities that provide “transformative leadership in college access and success for lower-income students, serving as a model for colleges and universities across the country.”

graduate at Commencement
Mason graduates at Spring Commencement 2023. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding

Mason is the only Virginia university to receive the honor, announced Tuesday by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Among the criteria were Mason serving students who receive Pell Grants and innovative recruitment, enrollment and retention practices that ATI will highlight to other four-year colleges and universities.

About 29% of Mason students qualify for federal Pell Grants because of financial need. The press release about the High-Flier recognition notes that since joining the ATI in 2019, Mason has “maintained one of the highest Pell shares among its 137 peers.”

“We share the urgency of ATI’s mission to prioritize access and outcomes,” Mason President Gregory Washington said. “We must provide opportunities for students of all backgrounds and then work with them so they graduate poised for success. It’s not just about getting them in, it’s about getting them out.”

The 28 high-flier universities include institutions of varying sizes, among them Princeton, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas.

The ADVANCE partnership with Northern Virginia Community College, the Mason Virginia Promise (and MVP Grant), and the Early Identification Program are among Mason initiatives that support enrolling and graduating students from low-income families and closing equity-based retention and graduation disparities.

“George Mason has worked hard to achieve these outcomes for students, and we are launching new programs to enhance these efforts, such as Direct Admission, where we partner with area high schools to offer admission to qualified students without a formal application,” said David Burge, Mason vice president for enrollment management. “The High-Flier recognition from ATI is further validation that Mason is a bridge of opportunity that connects potential with academic and career success.”

In 2021, ATI cited Mason for growing its number of Pell Grant-receiving students by the fifth-largest total in the country over a five-year period. ATI is a partnership among Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R.

"The economic fallout from the pandemic has made it even more important for schools across the country to adopt innovative new ways to attract and retain students from under-represented backgrounds," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City,  in the High-Flier press release.

“I applaud ATI's 28 High-Fliers for leading the way in this work and increasing the diversity of their campuses,” Bloomberg continued. “We hope their efforts serve as an example for other schools that are committed to creating opportunity for more lower-income students, so we can accelerate national progress on this critical challenge.”