William & Mary is partnering with Virginia high schools to identify and nominate high-achieving, limited-income students for a scholarship and mentoring program at the university that covers the full cost of in-state tuition and fees.  

The Commonwealth Impact Partnership Program, launched this semester, is part of William & Mary’s ongoing efforts to expand access to the university for first-generation and limited-income students. It is aimed at high schools identified by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to participate in the Virginia College Application Week initiative each fall.  

“The Commonwealth Impact Partners Program is another way for us to let high schools know we have the resources to support these outstanding, limited-income students. They belong at WIlliam & Mary,” said LaToya Lawson, associate dean of admission. “We want to give them a voice to tell us about academically distinguished students that they think are going to flourish and excel here.” 

Through the partnership, William & Mary will provide fee waivers to all applicants from the SCHEV-identified high schools. In addition, each school is encouraged to submit up to 10 nominations for the William & Mary Scholars Program. Owing to the great success of the program, the university’s goal is to expand the size of its enrolling cohort from 50 to 100 –doubling its size. 

The highly selective program provides awards each year to academically distinguished students with diverse backgrounds, talents and experiences. The awards cover at least the full cost of in-state tuition and fees, and the scholars have access to advising and other support through the W&M Scholars Undergraduate Research Experience Program

Expanding access and enhancing outcomes 

The Commonwealth Impact Partners Program is supported by a SCHEV grant and part of William & Mary’s continuing efforts to expand access and enhance outcomes for high-achieving, limited-income students — including those who are eligible for federal Pell Grants. 

Those efforts include a program launched this fall to guarantee scholarship aid to cover at least the cost of tuition and fees for all in-state, undergraduate students who are Pell Grant-eligible.  In October, the university announced a $2.5-million endowment that will support Lighting the Way scholarships for out-of-state, Pell Grant-eligible students starting next fall. In addition, with support of the SCHEV grant, the Office of Undergraduate Admission recently hired a new staff member to focus specifically on recruiting limited-income and first-generation students. 

“These students bring valuable experiences, talents and ideas to the university, enriching and strengthening our community as a whole,” said Tim Wolfe, associate vice president for enrollment and dean of admission. “We remain committed to increasing the socio-economic diversity of our student body, and this partnership gives us yet another tool to identify outstanding students with financial need and show them what William & Mary has to offer.”   

Currently, 18% of the university’s in-state undergraduates are Pell Grant-eligible. William & Mary wants to increase that number to at least 20% by 2026. 

The Commonwealth Impact Partnership Program is among the initiatives that are expected to help reach that goal, said Lawson. 

“Initiatives like this where we are really reaching out to our counselors, to our school divisions, to our community-based organizations and special interest groups, lets them know that we are dedicated to making sure we are reaching every population of students,” she said. 

Working with those partners helps get word to limited-income students that there may be financial and other support available to them, making William & Mary a very feasible educational option – and one that can result in significant returns. 

Among Virginia’s public colleges and universities, William & Mary offers the lowest average net price after financial aid to students from families making less than $110,000. On average, that makes a W&M education 42% less expensive for these students than other public institutions in the state. 

Additionally, at 87%, William & Mary has the highest four-year graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients of any public Virginia university, and graduates who received federal aid earn 35% more in median income than the national median. 

According to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, William & Mary is among the top 10 public universities with the highest 40-year return on investments for limited-income students. 

Partnering with high schools 

Helping limited-income students know what William & Mary’s admission process involves and what support might be available starts with making those things clear to high schools and community-based organizations who will be advising students. 

“The fact that we have holistic review can be jarring and hard for people to understand,” said Lawson, adding that many people are looking for a simple checklist. “It can be harder for outside partners to understand what we are looking for and what that process entails.” 

By working with high schools, undergraduate admission staff members are able to help counselors better understand the admission process and the many pathways available to William & Mary. 

“If William & Mary is the place a talented student wants to be, we can work with them to bring the university within reach,” said Lawson. 

The Commonwealth Impact Partnership Program also gives counselors some ownership in the process by allowing them to identify and nominate students for the William & Mary Scholars Program. While not required to be considered for a William & Mary Scholars Award, nominations help the university provide support to nominated students through the college application process. 

“When we’re able to be transparent and answer questions about what this means for us and how this helps us build a very diverse community, I think it is helpful for them,” said Lawson. 

Lawson said that she’s already received a great response from high school counselors about the new program and looks forward to seeing how this partnership bolsters W&M’s efforts to reach students from limited-income backgrounds. 

“It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work,” she said. “I really feel that everybody in this office understands why this is important, and that’s why we do what we do.” 

, Senior Associate Director of University News