Yale University has joined a new consortium of 16 colleges and universities working to help students from small-town and rural America enroll in, succeed at, and graduate from the colleges of their choice.
The STARS (Small-Town And Rural Students) College Network will build on efforts to create new pathways to college for students who might not otherwise recognize the full range of educational opportunities available to them. It is supported by a $20 million gift from Trott Family Philanthropies, the foundation of Byron and Tina Trott.
The STARS College Network, a first-of-its-kind nationwide effort, is designed to empower students to find the best higher education institution for them. In addition to Yale, the network includes four public flagship universities, 10 private research universities, and one private liberal arts college.
Working with the STARS College Network offers an exciting opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of institutions and to communicate to students from small towns and rural areas that a great college education is accessible and affordable, said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid at Yale.
“Collaborating with other colleges and universities helps to amplify and reinforce Yale’s message,” said Quinlan. “At the same time, we know that Yale’s total undergraduate enrollment is only 6,500 students. If we can help talented students from areas without strong college-going cultures aspire to attend four-year colleges with a strong commitment to affordability and a high graduation rate, we want to be part of that effort.”
Being part of a diverse student body is an essential component of an undergraduate education at any college, and especially at Yale, Quinlan added. “I am hopeful that this initiative can help bridge the growing rural-urban divide in America, by bringing students together to share the widest possible variety of backgrounds and experiences.”
For several years, Associate Director of Admissions Corinne Smith has directed Yale’s outreach to rural and small-town students. Students who live outside metro areas, Smith said, face a variety of obstacles to pursuing a college degree. These students are less likely to encounter programs that help with college applications, financial aid paperwork, and standardized test preparation.
“Yale is committed to supporting rural and small-town students on their path to and through college,” said Smith. “Our admissions office has been exploring ways to better identify, recruit, and support this population for several years. By joining the STARS Network, our hope is to build upon our commitment and expand beyond Yale. Through STARS, we can expand opportunities for prospective students, families, and educators across the United States to engage with top colleges.”
Joining the STARS College Network will help Yale expand its existing outreach programming and support new initiatives that bring prospective students to campus.
This summer, Yale will use funding from the STARS College Network to build the inaugural STARS Summer Scholars cohort. Five rural high school students will receive full financial support to cover the full cost of attendance and travel to attend the on-campus Yale Young Global Scholars program. In future years the admissions office plans to expand the program to more students.
The admissions office also plans to expand its successful student ambassadors’ program, which connects current Yale College students with high schools in their home areas over breaks. In the 2022-23 academic year, ambassadors visited over 600 public high schools in 47 states.
STARS is also teaming up with Khan Academy and the non-profit tutoring platform Schoolhouse to offer a free, online math curriculum and peer tutoring for students in small towns and rural communities, leading to certification of mastery in calculus — an important credential for admission to more selective colleges and universities that is not available from all high schools.
In founding the consortium, Byron D. Trott, the chairman and co-CEO of BDT & MSD Partners, was inspired by the ways in which college transformed his own journey, which began in small-town Union, Missouri and included undergraduate and MBA degrees at the University of Chicago. Trott-affiliated philanthropic efforts have provided substantial support to students from small towns and rural communities, including through the rootEd Alliance, which has convened philanthropists, and through the use of state funding to train and place dedicated college and career counselors in rural high schools in Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, and Idaho.
“There is a massive talent pool in our small towns and rural communities that has so much to offer — to our colleges, to society, and to future generations,” Trott said. “These smaller communities simply don’t have the resources to help show these students what is possible and help them get there. Collaborative partnerships like STARS and rootEd not only help to turn the tide — they have a multiplier effect that can catalyze far greater change than any single institution or agency could make on its own.”
Increased enrollment of students from other parts of the country will also help institutions achieve diversity in more traditional metrics, such as first-generation and low-income students. An estimated one-third of students from rural and small-town America are people of color.
Byron and Tina Trott, signers of the Giving Pledge wrote in their Pledge letter: “Our family is unanimous in and motivated by this commitment to put the majority of our wealth to work in philanthropic endeavors. It may be the most important work that we will do together and if done right, should certainly be the most rewarding.”