Awarded through the foundation's Excellence Gap initiative, the $1 million prize recognizes a college that excels in enrolling low-income students and supporting them through graduation. UNC-Chapel Hill, which opened in 1795 as America's first public university, provides low-debt, full-need student financial aid and admits students on a need-blind basis. More than 90 percent of the financial aid awarded by the university is need based, and 44 percent of UNC students receive such aid.
Notable university programs include the Carolina Covenant program, which provides debt-free financial aid for the lowest-income students in the state; the First Look program, which introduces low-income middle-school students to the idea of attending college; the Carolina College Advising Corps, which serves 23 percent of low-income public high school students in the state and employs fifty-one recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduates as advisers to high school seniors looking to apply to college; and the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, which partners with community colleges to provide financial aid packages with little or no student debt to high-achieving, low-income transfer students.
"We're honoring the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a national leader and role model for providing equal educational opportunity to students based on academic merit, regardless of family income," said Cooke Foundation executive director Harold O. Levy. "High-achieving, low-income students have proven again and again that they can excel at the most competitive colleges and universities when given the opportunity and needed financial aid. We owe them the opportunity to succeed, and we owe ourselves the opportunity to benefit from all they can accomplish for our nation and the world with a higher education."
UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol L. Folt said the university plans to raise $1 million in private funding to match the Cooke Prize and will use the additional funds to expand programs benefiting low-income students.