Enrolling at the University of Michigan seemed like a far-fetched dream for Devin Raymond.
Despite his 3.9 high school GPA, being the president of student council, and his involvement in choir, band, musical theater and other extracurricular activities, Raymond didn’t believe his family could afford the costs associated with attending such a prestigious institution.
Additionally, he had never been in high school with another student who went on to attend U-M, and that made the Ann Arbor campus feel even more out of reach.
“It’s been five years since someone from my high school got into the University of Michigan so it just felt like it wasn’t possible,” says Raymond, a graduate of Mason Senior High in Erie, Michigan.
But his dreams became more realistic when his principal told him that he had been invited to apply for the HAIL Scholarship, launched by U-M in August 2015.
HAIL is a two-year pilot effort that is testing a new approach to reaching — and enrolling — high-achieving, low-income students from across the state. It provides resources that remove some of the barriers proven to stop some students from applying to the university. For students who apply and are accepted, the HAIL (High Achieving Involved Leader) Scholarship provides four years of free tuition — a value of about $60,000.
The initiative is part of the university’s overall diversity, equity and inclusion plan — a five-year plan that includes an $85 million commitment to new initiatives and programs. The plan was launched Oct. 6 with a daylong series of events that included an opening session with the newly recommended Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers, President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martha Pollack.
The university developed the HAIL initiative in collaboration with Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics, who studies inequality in education and the optimal design for college financial aid. She will continue to evaluate the effort through a second year.
“Many promising students across Michigan don’t know how affordable an excellent school can be, so they don’t bother applying for admission or aid,” Dynarski says. “The HAIL Scholarship sends a powerful message that this world-class university is open to Michigan’s talented students, regardless of their income.”
In the first year of the scholarship, 262 students from 52 Michigan counties have enrolled at U-M and received full tuition scholarships. Students were selected for the HAIL initiative based on their previous academic success, financial need and early indications of their likelihood to be competitive in the admissions process. Raymond was one of them.
“Just hearing about this scholarship opportunity felt unreal at first. I mean, to be told that if we apply and are accepted, we’ll get free tuition — that made the idea of going to Michigan seem real for me,” he says.
Hearing that was like music to the ears of Kedra Ishop, U-M’s associate vice president for enrollment management. In helping develop the two-year pilot program, Ishop’s focus was to produce a new communications approach to reach a broader group of prospective students, including those like Raymond, who typically face barriers on their path to higher education.
“I remember I was in one of my rehearsals when I got an email from U-M saying I was accepted and would be a recipient of the HAIL scholarship. I just couldn’t believe it. I was the only one from my school to apply and receive admission. My teachers and my family were all so proud of me,” Raymond says.
While the HAIL Scholarship will pay all of his tuition, Raymond, like many other HAIL Scholarship recipients, was awarded additional federal financial aid grants to cover most of the cost of his housing. He also has secured a part-time campus work-study job as a student involvement coordinator to cover the additional costs like books and incidental expenses.
Ishop says the university’s commitment to HAIL does not stop with enrollment. The overall goal is to ensure the students’ success after they’re admitted. U-M’s Ann Arbor campus has a state’s-best 97 percent freshman retention rate and a 91 percent graduation rate.
As part of that process, all of the HAIL Scholarship recipients are connected with different resources to help them best assimilate to the university.
Forty students, including Raymond, were part of Summer Bridge Scholars, a program in LSA that immersed them in academically rigorous, credit-bearing courses and allowed them to earn up to nine credits toward their degree requirements. Ten other students were part of the M-STEM program, a six-week transition program that allowed them to explore science, technology, engineering and math careers. The remaining students are supported by the Office of Multicultural Initiative’s SuccessConnects program, which provides customized resources to students including developmental workshops, success coaching, leadership connecting and more; and the Comprehensive Studies Program in LSA.
“We’re pleased with the first-year enrollment numbers from this initiative. The data indicates that if we remove barriers and provide high-achieving, low-income students with information and resources, they will apply and be accepted to selective colleges and universities,” Ishop says.
“This new approach could prove to be highly effective not just in Michigan, but across the entire country.”
The university will test the HAIL initiative for a second year before fully assessing its effectiveness and making a decision on whether to continue with the effort.
“Being part of the Summer Bridge Scholars and seeing the kinds of resources U-M offers has already shown me just how great of an impact going to U-M will have on the rest of my life,” Raymond says. “And I would’ve had no idea any of it was possible if not for the HAIL Scholarship.”