Press Release: Top Colleges Offer Free Courses To HS Students




September 23, 2020 

The National Education Equity Lab, a nonprofit advancing education justice, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation, and the Common App, announce today the launch of a Consortium of top colleges and universities committed to creating new, more equitable pathways into college and beyond. A national education equity pilot begins this week in 60+ underserved high schools throughout the nation, in 14 cities, with nearly 1,000 high school students enrolled and ready to begin. 

Participating institutions include: Cornell University, Howard University, Yale University, the University of Connecticut, Arizona State University, and Harvard University provided the successful inaugural pilot course last fall. Each participating college and university has already provided, or has committed to provide at least one online college credit-bearing course to high-striving students of color and low income students in their teacher-led high school classrooms (virtual or in-school) for the 2020-2021 school year.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a National Education Equity Lab board member, and current Managing Partner at the Emerson Collective, calls the initiative “Game-Changing.” 

This week, students — who hail from New York City; Flint and Pontiac, Michigan; Los Angeles; San Diego; San Antonio; Broward County, Florida; Meriden, Connecticut; Baton Rouge, Lafitte, Lafayette, and Opelousas, Louisiana; and Gallup, New Mexico — begin taking a college credit-bearing course in high school, at no cost to them.

The National Education Equity Lab, which leads this effort, selects and supports the participating colleges and universities, including assisting with course selection and design. It also recruits and supports the participating school districts, high schools, and students — providing everything from messages about and support around college and financial aid, to offering teacher trainings, virtual welcome pep rallies, family engagement, and computers and hotspots. The national nonprofit additionally underwrites funding gaps, enabling districts devastated by COVID to participate. 

Students who successfully complete these rigorous college courses will earn highly transferable college credits, providing the opportunity for college to be more accessible, affordable, and successful. The model aims to reach 10,000 high school students by year three. There is currently a national waiting list for participation.

Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of the Common App, and a National Education Equity Lab board member, said, “The need for new, more equitable pathways into college has never been greater.  What better way to advance and demonstrate college readiness than to successfully complete an actual college course in high school.”

LaVerne Srinivasan, Vice President of National Program and Program Director of Education at Carnegie Corporation of New York, and a National Education Equity Lab board member, said, “America’s high school students — especially those long underserved by our education system — are facing an uncertain future. Carnegie Corporation of New York is proud to support this program, which will enable vulnerable young people to continue pursuing their dreams amid unprecedented disruption while creating a foundation to transform their life prospects in profound and lasting ways.” 

Leslie Cornfeld, CEO and Founder of the National Education Equity Lab, a former federal civil rights prosecutor who pivoted to advancing education equity as an advisor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and in the Obama administration, said, “education is the civil rights issue of our time. This effort empowers historically underserved students to advance and demonstrate college readiness — to admissions offices, and to themselves.” 

Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick praised the effort as necessary during this moment in history. “Howard University is proud to collaborate with other colleges and universities committed to advance educational and racial justice for the countless talented students in historically underserved high schools throughout our nation.  There’s never been a more important moment for colleges and universities to boldly step up to advance opportunity equity than now.”

Dr. Bahiyyah Muhammad, Howard University Assistant Professor of Criminology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology,  said, “As a Title 1 High School graduate, I am ecstatic about this opportunity for more than 100 students across all the boroughs of NYC. Being born in Far Rockaway, Queens, this takes on even greater significance.  I’m so grateful that Howard University has made this opportunity available to me and for so many students who are beyond deserving of this.  I am eager to engage with students who I am sure will apply to Howard University at the end of this journey.”

Harvard Professor Elisa New, a Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature and Poetry in America Founder and Director, who taught the first pilot course and will expand this fall with the National Education Equity Lab and Arizona State University, said, “This was one of the most inspiring teaching experiences of my career. To see high school students from the South Bronx to Flint, Michigan to Los Angeles embrace the rigors of a college-level course on poetry was eye-opening and motivating. I’m convinced that institutions of higher learning can make a real impact in advancing social mobility across the U.S. by providing students like those who succeeded in the pilot the chance to show what they can do.”   

Tamar Gendler, Yale University Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said, “Laurie Santos’ happiness course has changed the lives of thousands of Yale students. We are delighted to share the talents of such extraordinary faculty with high school students across our state, and country, bringing the benefits of a Yale education far beyond our campus walls. This innovative partnership with UConn offers a powerful way for Yale to serve our community and advance equity in education. It is a privilege to support this project.” 

Dr. Laurie Santos, Yale University Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman College, said, “I am excited to have a new way to share my course, and the science around wellbeing and happiness. I’m especially excited to reach more talented students who might not ordinarily have such opportunities.”

Carl Lejuez, UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, said, “UConn is ideally positioned to partner with the National Education Equity Lab on this pilot program. Our Early College Experience program, in operation since 1955, is the oldest such program in the country to offer university courses to high school students at their schools. UConn has continued to be a leader in these efforts, and we are excited to participate in this consortium and further expand higher education access to underserved students.”

Vice Provost Steven Carvell, who has helped lead and develop this initiative at Cornell University, said, “With this initiative to provide credit-bearing courses to talented students in under resourced high schools, Cornell University is reinforcing its promise to broaden our reach into underserved student populations.  We are proud to work with the National Education Equity Lab on this critical mission.” 

Andrew H. Tisch, Co-Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Executive Committee of Loews Corporation, Cornell trustee emeritus, who helped introduce this effort at Cornell, said, “I am delighted that Cornell is helping to lead this national education equity effort. It  is a win-win-win situation for everyone.”

One of the pilot teachers from Flint, Michigan teaching again this fall said, “I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been one of the best experiences of my teaching career, and I’ve been teaching for twenty-three years. I drove home in tears (happy tears) more than once, because I was so proud of what my students had accomplished and so inspired by how well things had gone that day in our class.”   

One pilot student from Gallup, New Mexico said, “I learned how to push myself, and work and think, in ways I never had to before…and I learned that I can do college-level work. Teachers had told me that, but now I see it and believe it and want more. In that way, this class probably changed my life.”


National Education Equity Lab: The National Education Equity Lab is a nonprofit working with the Common App, Carnegie Corporation of New York, a Consortium of colleges and universities, and others to advance economic and social mobility opportunities for historically underserved students at scale. 

In collaboration with under-resourced high schools nationwide, the National Education Equity Lab delivers and supports online, college credit-bearing courses from top colleges and universities into teacher-led high school classrooms (in-school or virtual), at no cost to students. Students can earn widely-transferable college credits — providing the opportunity to advance and demonstrate college readiness, and make college more affordable, accessible, and successful. 

Because impact requires more than great content, the National Education Equity Lab offers a package of additional supports, including one-on-one college mentors, college-mindset videos and messages, and personal technology and hotspots so that access is not a barrier to participation.   To learn more, visit

Carnegie Corporation of New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York was established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation’s programs focus on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: education, democratic engagement, and strengthening international peace and security.

Common App: Common App is a not-for-profit member organization committed to the pursuit of access, equity, and integrity in the college admission process. Founded in 1975, Common App serves over 900 member colleges and universities worldwide.  To learn more, visit, and follow @CommonApp and #CommonApp on social media.


For more information contact: Ariel Murphy Bedford at