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Investing $500 million in top colleges

The Schuler Access Initiative will invest $500 million to increase enrollment of undocumented and low-income students at America’s top colleges

Jack Schuler sees undocumented and low-income students as the next great investment for America’s top colleges.

Schuler, the co-founder of the Schuler Education Foundation, is planning to invest $500 million over the next 10 years as part of the recently launched Schuler Access Initiative.

The Schuler Access Initiative will award funds to institutions of higher education that pledge to increase their enrollment of Pell-eligible and undocumented students over 10 years. The Initiative will include up to 20 liberal arts schools, with the Schuler Education Foundation funding $500 million and those schools agreeing to match the funds for an additional $500 million for a total of $1 billion.

Schuler, 80, is the son of a Swiss immigrant whose father came to the United States in 1925 and made sure his children – including Schuler – went to college. Schuler said he sees the same drive in today’s undocumented and low-income students, many who are first generation or children of first-generation families.

“I was given an opportunity to understand the value of going to college,” Schuler said. “My father was never wealthy, but it was clear that I would go to college. I think a lot of families want the same for their children but don’t have the same opportunities to provide that, especially if they are low-income or undocumented. The Access Initiative gives them that chance to go to a top college and those colleges get to invest in a motivated group of students.”

Schuler, a new entrant to Forbes’ World’s Billionaires List, co-founded the Schuler Education Foundation in 2001 with his daughter, Tanya Sharman, after he, his wife and three children agreed that he would essentially give most of his wealth back to society. Over the last few years, as the Schuler Education Foundation has flourished and evolved, the Schuler Access Initiative idea was proposed and recently launched. Sharman said she’s excited to watch what her father does in this next chapter of his life.

“My father has done some amazing things in his career and his life but I think the work he’s doing now through the Schuler Education Foundation and specifically the Access Initiative is what will be his lasting legacy,” Sharman said, adding that the partnerships with the colleges are critical to the success of the Access Initiative.

“We want to work together with the colleges to craft the best plan to use the Access Initiative to engage their donors and open opportunities for low-income students,” she said.

Schuler and Sharman said the leadership of Schuler Education Foundation Executive Director and CEO, Jason Patenaude, has been crucial in the Access Initiative’s ideation and execution. Patenaude, who has led the foundation since 2017, was himself a low-income student from a family where a top college was not considered an option. The family’s aspiration for Patenaude was to become a postal worker, but through two mentoring teachers in high school, he earned a BA from Bates College, then an MBA from Dartmouth.

“It’s really remarkable that I get to work for Schuler because it did emulate my path so similarly,” Patenaude said. ““Being part of an organization that understands that there is an incredible well of untapped potential - 7 million children living in poverty – whose potential could be unlocked by going to college is truly fulfilling.”

“There are two things that flash in my head every day,” Patenaude added. “1. What an incredible opportunity this is, and, 2. Don’t screw it up. I don’t want to let Jack down.”

Patenaude said several colleges have already backed the Access Initiative – with Schuler investing up to $20 million in each of those schools – and the Schuler Education Foundation is looking for a few more ideal partners.

Schuler said the Access Initiative will be a game-changer for undocumented students, who can’t receive loans or Federal PELL Grants.

“They’re getting shut out of a lot of things,” Schuler said. “This Access Initiative will help compensate for that.”

The Schuler Education Foundation over the last 20 years has invested more than $100 million to help more than 1,500 students earn full scholarships and graduate from the top liberal arts colleges in the United States.


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Jack and Tanya
Jack Schuler and Tanya Sharman on College Signing Day
Jason Patenaude
Jason Patenaude, Executive Director, Schuler Education Foundation
Jack Schuler
Jack Schuler, Co-Founder, Schuler Education Foundation
Tanya Sharman
Tanya Sharman, Co-founder, Schuler Education Foundation