President Biden’s Proposed Budget Emphasizes Funding for High-Poverty Schools

President Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 requests a hefty 15.6 percent increase in education spending requesting to double the funding for high-poverty schools and increasing spending for special education by about 25 percent.

For higher education, the budget would also increase funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribally-Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) and community colleges. The President’s budget also would make historic investments in college affordability and completion, aiming to double the maximum Pell Grant by 2029. In addition, the proposed budget also aims to improve strategies to support students as they transition to college and universities and help them get the most from their post-secondary education.

One higher education institution is taking its own measures to accomplish many of the same objectives. A new program at Widener University aims to help transition high school students to higher education, ease the financial burden of attendance, help with retention, attract a more diverse student body and support students both socially and academically.

The PRIDE Scholars Accelerated College Program will give students in nearby communities the opportunity to take college courses at a greatly discounted rate, either online, in their high school or on the Widener campus – or a combination of all three. Students can earn up to 30 college credits through a combination of Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses and individual Widener college courses.

The program will create pathways to college for accomplished students and also make post-secondary education more affordable. Student in the program are on track to earn their bachelor’s degree in three years and a master’s in year four, and there is a similar arrangement for students who choose to attend community colleges. High school students can begin taking college courses in the summer after the junior year and continue through senior year. 

Widener will launch the program in its own community of Chester, Penn., which is predominantly African American and where a large percentage of students would otherwise not have the financial resources to attend college. Future plans would expand the program to communities within a 25-mile radius of the University, a commutable distance for students attending classes on campus.

University Provost Dr. Andrew Workman has been instrumental in re-thinking the pipeline of students to the university, which he believes is essential in attracting a more diverse population with limited resources.

Workman explains that the goal was to create a program that can help students to come to Widener, to succeed and to afford a high-quality education. “We’re doing that by essentially making more permeable the boundary between high school and college,” he said. “We wanted to create a pipeline of students, particular those of color who not only get to attend college, but succeed,” he said. 

Currently, the program is cohort-based, so while classes are online, if there’s a large enough cohort, Widener can hold class at the high school. All courses are taught by college professors, and students receive support on study skills and time management and tutoring, to help them succeed.

Widener works with high school guidance counselors who can recommend students for consideration to the program. High school sophomores can apply to the program and admitted students then meet with a Widener Student Success Advisor to plan their program. The program is targeted for students from under-resourced high schools, especially those that perhaps cannot afford to offer Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. Some districts will pay for the courses, but Widener discounts the pricing to make it work for everyone. “There is also some donor interest in this program. This is a way to transform people’s lives,” Workman notes. “We’ve figured out how to make it work with our financial aid structure and support the institution.”

Workman explains that students can attend Widener after earning the 30 credits in high school, but they are also free to go elsewhere. Admission to the school is guaranteed for students who complete the Pride Scholars Accelerated College Program, eliminating the stress of applying to college and easing the transition from high school to college. Tuition is also discounted for students who complete the program and choose to attend Widener.

The school has an SAT-optional policy, and Workman points out that grades are typically a more accurate way to assess students than testing. “When students complete the program, we know how they’re going to do,” Workman points out. “These students will already have relationships with their advisors and faculty members and we are confident they’ll be successful.”

While students enter the Widener campus as college sophomores, since they have already accumulated 30 college credits, they are welcomed as freshman. “These students aren’t actual sophomores, since they haven’t had the college experience and that kind of independence, so we make sure these students don’t miss out on the social and development aspects of college life,” Workman explains.

The school will also offer a PRIDE Business Scholars Program, which is the same as the PRIDE Scholars Program, but emphasizes providing access to affordable, high-quality business education, and a STEM Scholars Program, that creates a new pathway to make STEM education at Widener accessible to a broad cross section of students who want to pursue STEM-related majors.