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How a college president toppled the ivory tower

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"The need for us to find solutions to really grave problems in the world ... means that we can't waste talent," she says. "The work of increasing graduation rates in this country – that's what's burning in my heart."

Only 18 percent of African-American and 12 percent of Hispanic adults have completed four years of college, compared with more than 30 percent of white non-Hispanics, according to a recent report by the Lumina Foundation. The foundation's goal is to help raise the percentage of US adults with college degrees from 39 percent today to 60 percent by 2025.

Colleges like Pine Manor can play a big role in meeting that goal, Nemerowicz says. It's the kind of work they've been doing – somewhat invisibly – for years.

Last spring, she held a "Yes We Must" summit at Pine Manor, bringing together presidents from 11 small liberal arts colleges and education groups that serve low-income and minority students. They shared ways to make college more affordable and raise graduation rates – and launched a Yes We Must coalition at about 100 schools.

"What's impressed me most about Gloria is the fact that she's stayed on top of this relentlessly and that she has a genuine desire to share this as widely as she can," says Gary Bonvillian, president of Thomas University in Thomasville, Ga. "If you take any one of our schools individually, we're not powerhouses ... but together we've created quite a strong voice."

Pine Manor keeps tuition relatively low ($21,000, plus room and board, compared with an average of $34,000 for four-year private colleges in New England) and offers plenty of financial aid.

But perhaps more important is the way each student is aided by a team of faculty members, student-life staff, and even a financial adviser.

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