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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Carolina wins $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence

Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, came to Chapel Hill on June 19 to announce that Carolina received this year’s $1 million Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence.

Carolina has received the $1 million 2017 Cooke Prize for Equity in Educational Excellence, the largest award in the nation recognizing a college or university for its success in enrolling low-income students and supporting them to successful graduation.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt said the University plans to raise $1 million in private funding to match the Cooke Prize and will use the combined $2 million to further expand its programs benefitting low-income students.

“We are deeply honored that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation selected Carolina as the 2017 recipient for the Cooke Prize for Excellence in Education Equity,” Folt said. “We have long drawn inspiration from the guiding principles of the Foundation. Carolina is committed to living those principles as we strive for excellence and equity for students across North Carolina and far beyond our state’s borders.

“As the nation’s first public university, access and opportunity are in our DNA. We know that when our student body reflects the most talented individuals, from all backgrounds, we are a stronger University and our state and nation become stronger as well. Carolina’s approach from recruiting to preparing these future leaders is comprehensive and deep. We are dedicated to providing our students with the tools they need to lead in the uncertainty that is certain to face them and rethink many of the very disciplines they studied while at Carolina.”

The Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the foundation has awarded $175 million in scholarships to more than 2,300 students from 8th grade through graduate school.

This is the third year the Cooke Prize is being awarded. Vassar College received the prize in 2015 and Amherst College received it in 2016.

“We’re honoring the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a national leader and role model for providing equal educational opportunity to students based on academic merit, regardless of family income,” said Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy.

“High-achieving, low-income students have proven again and again that they can excel at the most competitive colleges and universities when given the opportunity and needed financial aid. We owe them the opportunity to succeed and we owe ourselves the opportunity to benefit from all they can accomplish for our nation and the world with a higher education.”

Other finalists for this year’s Cooke Prize were: Brown University; Rice University; Stanford University; and the University of California, Berkeley.

A study last year by the foundation found that only 3 percent of students at top colleges across the nation come from the poorest 25 percent of families, while 72 percent come from the wealthiest 25 percent of families. This dramatic disparity shows why action is needed to enroll more high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students in such schools, Levy said.

Carolina admits students on a need-blind basis and awards 93 percent of financial aid based on need, and 44 percent of students get such aid. The Carolina Covenant program provides debt-free financial aid for the lowest-income students.