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QuestBridge, a national organization connecting low-income students to selective colleges, announced Barnard as one of its three new partner institutions earlier this week.

QuestBridge, a national organization connecting low-income students to selective colleges, announced Barnard as one of its three new partner institutions earlier this week.

Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science are entering their 14th year as QuestBridge partner schools, making Barnard the third Columbia undergraduate college to become an institutional partner. In recent years, Barnard has seen rising tuition and a notable wealth gap among its student body. Its new QuestBridge partnership could indicate efforts to address gaps in the college’s socioeconomic diversity and to expand its low-income student population.

The program, now in its 17th year, has “matched” 7,000 high school students with a full-ride offer of admission from one of its 45 partner universities. Targeting students based on data from admissions tests and networks of guidance counselors, QuestBridge aims to reach high-achieving students well before the typical January application deadlines, offering mentoring programs that make the admissions process—which traditionally advantages wealthy students—more accessible for low-income applicants.

Grace Bertelli, CC ’21 and president of the Columbia QuestBridge Scholars Network, is one of Columbia’s more than 250 student and alumni QuestBridge Scholars. Before college, Bertelli only became aware of schools like Columbia and Barnard because of the QuestBridge program.

“I only looked at QuestBridge partners because being from rural Iowa, you don’t really hear about a lot of these schools, especially for these small liberal arts schools. They really got put on my radar because of QuestBridge,” Bertelli said. “I never even heard of Barnard, which is actually kind of crazy in hindsight, because just doing my research on Columbia I should have.”

From Barnard’s class of 2024, only 38 percent of first-years qualified for financial aid, with need-based grants averaging $35,935. The other 62 percent of students are expected to pay full tuition, which sits at $55,781 for the 2020-2021 school year. Barnard’s smaller endowment forces it to rely on tuition and fees for 80 percent of its revenue, leading to a rise in tuition of over 25 percent since 2010.

[Related: Columbia wants the best and the brightest students. To keep up with top-ranked schools, it needs the richest too.]

According to the New York Times, Barnard and Columbia are in the top 20 colleges most committed to economic accessibility, but low-income students still face hurdles in both admission and attendance to these elite institutions. Barnard administrators have expressed hope that the partnership will change the prospective students’ perception of the institution.

“Barnard is proud to partner with QuestBridge to target and reach thousands of high-achieving, low-income students,” wrote Dean of Admissions Christina Lopez in a statement. “As we further our commitment to being a more diverse and inclusive institution, we look forward to working with QuestBridge to open up a Barnard education to those who may have considered it inaccessible before.”

Before joining the QuestBridge network, Barnard’s existing admissions programs for low-income students included a narrow subset of applicants. Barnard has a 50-year partnership with the Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program, an initiative co-funded by the college and the New York State Education Department and limited to New York residents. Unlike QuestBridge, which recommends minimum ACT and SAT scores for application, HEOP offers admission only to those scoring a 24 or below on the ACT English or a 33 or below on the SAT Reading section. The SAT Reading Test is scored out of 40 and is used to calculate the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score, which is out of 800.

The Barnard Opportunity Program, an additional program to support low-income Barnard applicants, mirrors HEOP’s function and requirements while targeting out-of-state students.

“This new partnership with QuestBridge aligns well with Access Barnard, a key institutional initiative that aims to improve the academic and student experience for our first-generation, low-income population,” wrote Vice President for Enrollment and Communications Jennifer Fondiller in a statement. “Joining QuestBridge is another step toward ensuring that we can identify, enroll, and support the most talented scholars from all backgrounds.”

Members of the Columbia QuestBridge chapter have expressed support for their community growing to include Barnard students as well.

“We’re just really excited for Barnard,” Bertelli said of the chapter’s reaction to the news. “I definitely don’t think I’d be here without QuestBridge.”

Deputy News Editor Abby Melbourne can be contacted at abby.melbourne@columbiaspectator.com. Follow her on Twitter @abby_melbourne.

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