Columbia Joins STARS College Network

Columbia and 15 other prominent universities and colleges from across the nation have teamed up in a new effort to help students from small-town and rural America enroll in, succeed at and graduate from the undergraduate program of their choice.

The STARS College Network (Small-Town And Rural Students) will build on efforts to create new pathways to college for students who might not otherwise recognize the full range of educational opportunities available to them. It is supported by a $20 million gift from Trott Family Philanthropies, the foundation of Byron and Tina Trott.

“We are honored to be a part of the STARS College Network. Rural students add invaluable perspectives on college campuses, and outreach in rural communities has been a priority of ours for years,” said Jessica Marinaccio, dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid. “Participating in this network allows us to amplify our efforts alongside other outstanding institutions to ensure rural students can reach their full potential while contributing to the lively discourses that occur in our campus communities.”

Columbia’s engagement with the STARS College Network demonstrates its commitment to the university’s mission of creating a diverse student body in one of the world’s most important centers of research. “I knew by attending Columbia, I would gain access to resources and opportunities that were only dreams at home,” said Hope Hersom, a current Columbia Engineering student originally from the village of Bergen in upstate New York.

With support from the STARS College Network, Columbia will establish a fly-in program for rural and small-town students in 2023-2024. “It is vitally important for students to have the chance to visit college campuses as they investigate the breadth of possibilities that await them,” Marinaccio noted. “And we want to make sure that students from rural areas have access to this important step in their college exploration process.” Students who participate in the new campus visit program will learn firsthand about Columbia, experience the vibrancy of New York City and receive hands-on guidance from Columbia Undergraduate Admissions staff about the college admissions and financial aid process. 

Columbia is leveraging its participation in the STARS College Network to launch and expand several additional initiatives, including:

  • Creating a Rural Recruitment Committee of student ambassadors to assist with outreach efforts and foster a new network of support for rural and small-town students on Columbia’s campus
  • Reinstating the Undergraduate Admissions peer-to-peer rural high school visit program and expanding to reach additional rural and small-town school districts across the country
  • Providing financial assistance to support campus visits for admitted students from rural and small towns who demonstrate financial need
  • Distributing college search resources and information about Columbia to a larger group of prospective students from rural and small towns
  • Bolstering existing virtual programming that introduces Columbia and New York City, tailored to address the questions and concerns of rural and small-town audiences

Across the STARS College Network, member institutions will be developing pipeline programs to help students explore and prepare for college, increasing direct outreach to rural and small towns and cultivating supportive campus communities. Ultimately, this ecosystem of initiatives can broaden students’ understanding of best-fit colleges and universities and bring individuals together to share the widest possible variety of experiences. “My most meaningful connections at Columbia have come from making intentional efforts to pursue parts of my authentic self. I’ve found wonderful people who have similar passions, interests and hobbies that I would never have met otherwise,” explains Gracie Carpenter, a Columbia College student from Firth, Idaho. “For current rural high school students, be bold. Communities like Columbia want and need your voice! You bring something unique to the table, so don’t be afraid to reach high.”

Students can learn more and participate in STARS programs on the network's website.

Join Zoie, hailing from Kingsford, Michigan, on her day at Columbia, including class, dinner in the dining halls and the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.

About the STARS College Network

The STARS College Network is a group of 16 universities working together to increase access, affordability, and college advising for students from rural and small-town communities who bring valuable experiences and viewpoints to college communities. STARS College Network member institutions are dedicated to bringing the nation’s best and brightest, no matter where they live, to a school that is the best fit for them.

The STARS College Network is a new college access model that bridges the gaps in access that currently exist. The Network provides students with access to a wide variety of pre-college programming at member institutions, ongoing support in their college search process, and a streamlined application process that breaks down many of the barriers these students face in accessing opportunities in higher education.

A stylized logo spelling STARS College Network

Columbia has a way of making you feel at home very quickly. In the summer, I love laying out on the lawns or on Low Library steps with friends and escaping from the city for a while. These experiences are crucial to helping rural students have a sense of self in such a large city.

Harrisonburg, VA
French, Human Rights

Watch current rural and small-town Columbians share their experiences as ambassadors in our Take Columbia Home peer-to-peer rural high school visit program.

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