Foundation Names College Finalist for $1 Million Prize
Issue   |   Wed, 04/20/2016 - 00:54

Amherst College was named one of five finalists for the $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence on Tuesday, April 12. The college was listed alongside Davidson, Pomona, Stanford and Rice.

The Cooke Prize, sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke foundation, is intended for an elite college or university that has demonstrated a large amount of support for high-performing low-income students. The goal of the prize is to allow the institution to further work against unequal barriers to admission.

The foundation invited the college to submit a proposal for the prize on Jan. 20, with a deadline of March 1, director of the grants office Lisa Stoffer said in an email interview. The foundation requested further information from the college on April 1.

Stoffer said that she was the main writer of the proposal, and she sought input from other college administrators, including President Biddy Martin, dean of the faculty Catherine Epstein and staff in the offices of admission and financial aid, student affairs and institutional research.

“The proposal asked us to answer a series of questions about admissions, financial aid, academic programs and campus resources for low-income, first-generation and community college transfer students,” Stoffer said.

According to the Jack Kent Cooke foundation’s website, some factors that contributed to Amherst being chosen as a finalist were its generous need-blind financial aid, high number of transfer students and the availability of funds for students’ internships, travel and study abroad.

According to Stoffer, if Amherst receives the Cooke Prize, Martin and other leaders in the college’s administration will have the discretion to use the funds however they see fit, as long as the intended uses are in line with the foundation’s mission. Several possible goals for the administration are included in the college’s strategic plan, which was published in

June 2015 and outlines programs and initiatives geared toward low-income students.

“There are some purposes that have the support of multiple offices on campus — student affairs, admission and financial aid and the dean of the faculty, among others,” Stoffer said. “These include reducing financial barriers for low-income students so they can afford to accept summer internships or other summer opportunities.”

The foundation will announce the recipient of the Cooke Prize by the end of April.

This is the second year that the Jack Kent Cooke foundation has offered this prize, and the first year that the foundation has held a competition among institutions for it. Previously, Amherst was selected as one of eight colleges and universities to participate in the foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative, which enabled the college to increase recruitment and enrollment of transfer students from 2006 to 2010.