A recent study has revealed that top colleges are lacking in highly talented low-income students, even though many schools have implemented new programs that cater to this demographic. Many of these skilled students never attempt to apply at selective universities and, as a result, are missing out the opportunity to matriculate at elite universities even though these schools offer lucrative financial aid opportunities for low-income students.
Why don’t low income students apply?
The majority of high achieving middle- and high-income students have a set pattern of applying to a variety of schools – they apply to some schools that are on “par” with their GPA and test scores, some “safety” schools, and some “reach” schools. However, a majority of their low-income counterparts tend to stick to less selective institutions that enroll more low income students than the elite universities.
This trend can be traced back to the culture in which the low-income student grew up. Often, high achieving students from poor or rural districts do not have any role models who attended a competitive university; indeed, many of these students are the first in their families to consider attending college. For these students, there is no set path, and no experienced guide to let them know how, when, and why they should apply to a selective university.
True – There are some low-income students applying and being accepted at top-tier universities, but the study found that the majority of these students are coming from a “highly concentrated” group of selective high schools. These high schools have GPA requirements and staff that specialize in helping their students prepare for college. Inner city and rural public schools are largely unrepresented in these low-income applicant pools.
How can you connect with these students?
In a follow-up project from Stanford University, about 40,000 students from low-income, non-selective high schools were tracked as they made their college decisions. These students come from districts and schools where few, if any, graduates apply to elite colleges. These students then received a number of low-cost interventions to advise and educate them along the way, and to directly address concerns that poor families have during the application process.
Some of the interventions included; customized information about the true cost of college (as opposed to the “sticker price”), automatic application fee waivers to certain universities, and information about graduation rates. The results were dramatic. These students were significantly more likely to apply for admission and be accepted at competitive schools that typically enroll higher numbers of high-income students. They also found that these students performed as well or better than their peers who attended less competitive institutions.
So, the studies show that a small investment can yield big results when recruiting low-income students. But very few schools go to such lengths to attract students whose educations need to be subsidized by loans and other forms of private aid. Low income students simply don’t contribute towards the bottom line. As Unemployed Northeastern, an Inside Higher Education commenter said:
“…at the most elite schools, after they pencil in the legacy and athletic admits, the development cases, the scions of politicians and other wielders of power, the centuries-old quota from Deerfield and Exeter and similar, how many spots are really left for the great unwashed masses who have neither riches nor connections to their name? According to the Crimson, at Harvard… less than 5% of the class comes from the bottom quintile of household income and less than 20% comes from the bottom three quintiles of household income. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Harvard students come from famlies with >$200,000 in income. In other words, just because college makes a show of trying to get more low-income students doesn’t mean they are actually trying to get more low-income students.
Although most colleges and universities will likely ignore the findings of Stanford’s recent study, perhaps their models for intervening on these students can find a place within low-income high schools’ advising and guidance departments.
How does your school recruit low-income groups?