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UMD Joins Nationwide Initiative to Boost Enrollment From Rural Areas

First-of-Its-Kind STARS College Network Aims to Recruit, Empower More Students to Succeed in Higher Education

By Maryland Today Staff

students walking outside the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center

The STARS College Network is designed to make attending college at UMD and 15 other top institutions more accessible to students from rural areas and small towns who might not otherwise be able to access the full range of educational opportunities.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

The University of Maryland announced today that it has teamed up with 15 of the nation’s most prominent universities and colleges in a new effort to help students from small towns and rural communities enroll in, succeed at and graduate from the undergraduate program of their choice.

Powered by a $20 million gift from Trott Family Philanthropies, the foundation of Byron and Tina Trott, the STARS College Network (Small-Town And Rural Students) is designed to make college more accessible to students who might not otherwise recognize the full range of educational opportunities available to them. This nationwide effort, the first of its kind, is designed to empower students to find the best institution for them.

Through the STARS grant funding, the University of Maryland will expand on its current outreach efforts to recruit the best and brightest prospective students from all parts of the state, with even greater focus on the Eastern Shore and Western and Southern Maryland.

"At the University of Maryland, we are committed to investing in people and communities, including creating and strengthening pathways for students in our state to pursue an education at their flagship institution,” said UMD Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice. “The STARS Network will allow us to expand upon our existing efforts to reach students in rural areas of Maryland through increased outreach and more robust programming and staffing."

To connect with prospective students in smaller communities, UMD will create a new admissions staff position focused on rural recruitment. The university will also develop new events and programs, such as providing transportation to enable newly admitted students from the eastern and western parts of the state to attend Maryland Day on April 29.

These new activities build on UMD’s current recruitment efforts in rural communities, which include visits to high school counselors in all parts of the state and workshops in communities focusing on essays, financial aid and other important admissions-related topics, among other activities.

“We're excited to kick off new initiatives that demonstrate our commitment to recruiting students from all parts of the state. By helping these students and their families understand the benefits of a college education and introducing them to the highlights of UMD, we can make a significant impact on their lives,” said Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Shannon Gundy. “We are thrilled and honored to help put college within their reach.”

Along with the University of Maryland, STARS member institutions include Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University, Colby College, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, The Ohio State University, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Southern California, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis and Yale University.

Founding supporter Byron D. Trott, chairman and co-CEO of BDT & MSD Partners, was inspired by the ways in which college transformed his own journey, which began in small-town Union, Missouri and included undergraduate and MBA degrees at the University of Chicago. Trott-affiliated philanthropic efforts have provided substantial support to students from small towns and rural communities, including through launching rootEd Alliance, which has convened philanthropists, as well as funding from Missouri, Texas, Tennessee and Idaho, to train and place dedicated college and career counselors in rural high schools.

“There is a massive talent pool in our small towns and rural communities that has so much to offer—to our colleges, to society, and to future generations,” Trott said. “These smaller communities simply don’t have the resources to help show these students what is possible and help them get there. Collaborative partnerships like STARS and rootEd not only help to turn the tide—they have a multiplier effect that can catalyze far greater change than any single institution or agency could make on its own.”

In addition to illuminating opportunities for students, the launch of STARS complements and can help facilitate efforts to make college more affordable, such as the Davis New Mexico Scholarship. That scholarship has already partnered with institutions including the University of Chicago to support more than 250 first-generation students from New Mexico. Andrew Davis, who founded the $60 million effort, said he hopes to expand college access nationwide.

“College access initiatives, ongoing support programs and meaningful scholarships must work hand in hand to support underrepresented students all the way from high school to college graduation,” said Davis.

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