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Duke creates new scholarship for first-generation students

Duke is launching the Washington Duke Scholars program to support first-generation students, President Richard Brodhead told The Chronicle Wednesday.

The new program will provide an enhanced financial aid package, a four-week summer orientation program, mentorship, computers and seminars to support selected first-generation students after arriving at the University. Administrators are hopeful that after involving approximately 30 students in the program's first year for the Class of 2020, it will expand to around 60 and eventually include all eligible students, making Duke a more attractive destination for first-generation students, explained Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. 

"We need to make sure all of the students we need to bring into Duke are supported in a way that allows them to take full advantage of everything that we have to offer," Nowicki said.

Around 10 percent of Duke's approximately 6,400 undergraduates are first-generation students, but not all of them will be considered for the program. Certain first-generation applicants accepted to Duke needing high or full financial aid will be considered as potential Washington Duke scholars upon admission based on characteristics such as their socioeconomic status, parents' education level, high school and number of advanced placement courses.

Nowicki also noted that a driving force behind the program is to provide resources for students who might need additional support after arriving on campus, explaining that the lack of existing support for low-income, first-generation students after arriving at universities is a national issue.

"We've seen this at Duke, and we've seen it nationwide," Nowicki said. "The story is out there of these high-achieving kids who come to a place and then struggle through no fault of their own." 

The University's newest scholarship program will be administered by the newly-created Office of Outreach and Access while still being affiliated with the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows—which is responsible for Duke's merit scholarship programs, such as the Benjamin N. Duke and Angier B. Duke Scholarships, according to a press release announcing the program.

By affiliating the new scholarship program with OUSF, the University hopes to link Washington Duke scholars with other scholars at Duke, according to a document outlining the program provided by administrators. The University is looking to provide institutional support to first-generation students while also putting students selected for the Washington Duke Scholars program on the same playing field as their peers, noted Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of financial aid, in an email.

"The idea is to shorten the time needed to adjust to Duke and give these students the financial and social supports needed to take off on the right foot from the moment they get to campus," Rabil wrote.

One of the largest elements of the program will be the four-week summer bridge orientation program that will expand on the 1G pre-orientation program that has been in place since 2012. During the summer, Washington Duke scholars will take a one-credit course to help them adjust to the rigor of college classes while taking advantage of other programs designed to orient them within the University. Because of the length of the program, the summer earnings financial aid requirement prior to enrollment will be waived for Washington Duke scholars, Rabil explained. Students in the program will also be provided with computers after they arrive on campus.

Following the summer program, Washington Duke scholars will receive additional support from academic advisors who have agreed to take on a more expansive role and will be trained to understand how best to assist low-income, first-generation students. In addition to increasing faculty mentorship, those who created the program are also expecting Washington Duke scholars to serve as peer advisors in their second year and satisfy part of their work-study requirement by mentoring first-year scholars.

Seminars focused on professional readiness and thriving at Duke will also be required for Washington Duke scholars in their first year, with the Thriving at Duke seminar being run by Counseling and Psychological Services to help students transition to a new environment. Because of these additional time constraints, the work-study component of scholars' financial aid in their first year will not be required, Nowicki said.

Beyond their first year, Washington Duke scholars will receive continued support through another professional readiness seminar in their second year, a stipend and waiver of their summer earnings requirement for another summer to take part in an approved internship and a series of events to connect with faculty and alumni.

Administrators expect the financial benefits of the program to lure first-generation students to Duke, but Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag explained that the Washington Duke Scholarship is not a recruitment tool and was not designed to help with admissions yield.

"It wasn’t conceived of, nor are we thinking of it as, a recruitment program as much as an enhancement program," he wrote in an email.

Although other universities such as Stanford University and Georgetown University have programs in place to support first-generation students, Nowicki explained that the depth of the Washington Duke Scholars program will be unique among the University's peers.

"Duke is probably rolling out the most comprehensive program like this that's out there," he said.

The cost of the program will depend on the number of students accepted, Nowicki explained, though he noted that it will likely be sizable because of the summer program and financial aid enhancements. Despite the "significant price tag," Nowicki said that Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth and were immediately supportive of the program because "they saw this was the right thing to do."

"This new program will help Duke deliver on its promise of opening doors of opportunity, providing guidance as these students learn how to access the full measure of a Duke education and thrive on our campus,” Brodhead said in the release.

As Duke's peer institutions continue expanding their financial aid offerings, the new scholarship program could make the University more competitive and make it a leader in supporting students once they arrive, Nowicki said. 

"If this works, in a few years, people are going to look back and say, 'What did Duke do, how did they do it?'" he said.


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