Several smart projects are underway to encourage low-income young adults from underserved communities to not only attend college, but attend the college that best matches their ability and interests.
Far too many high-achieving young people from limited means end up in less selective colleges. One of the main reasons is their perception that they can’t possibly afford Northwestern or Yale, even though their grades put them in the running for acceptance to elite schools.
But a new study by Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner shows that the simple act of mailing some targeted information to prospective high-achieving students during the selection process boosts enrollment in well-matched selective colleges.
The study focused on teens who had SAT scores high enough to make it into the top 200 most selective colleges in the country. One group was mailed a packet of information that spelled out many of the big unknowns about college among this group, and specically tried to dispel the myth that they couldn’t afford it. They pointed out, for example, that elite schools typically offer ample scholarships, and other assistance.
The students who received the packet were significantly more likely to apply to colleges matching their abilities than those who did not. They also achieved first-year grades as good as the students who went to lesser schools.
As the researchers write:
The ECO-C Intervention causes students to applyto and enroll in colleges with higher graduation rates, greater instructional resources, and curriculum that is more geared toward students with very strong preparation like their own. Put another way, the ECO-C Intervention closes part of the college behavior”gap”between low-income and high-income students with the same level of achievement.
One would think that someone would have thought of this before–it’s just so simple and basic. But as the authors write, where’s the incentive?
No one postsecondary institution would have the incentive to conduct such an intervention since many of the benefits would accrue to other institutions. That is, the ECO-C Intervention produces benefits that are largely public. Thus, a natural host for such an intervention would be a pan-collegiate organization or other organization with social goals.
Also helping lower-income students is a program that MDRC and Bloom Associates have launched called the ECCO (Exploring College and Career Options) curriculum. Activities such as field trips to colleges and workplaces, lessons in what employers expect, and talks from professionals who came from similar backgrounds, motivate and inspire young adults. The curriculum focuses on helping students prepare for both college and career and exposes them to real-world experiences.
More broadly, the Lumina Foundation has outlined several policies that states can work toward to ensure that more Americans graduate from college. These include:
- Set a specific state goal for attainment, and develop interim measures of progress. Promising measures include, according to their website, “creating a unified student unit record systems that link K-12, higher education, and workforce data; and to collect, publicly report, and use at the campus and state levels common metrics that measure progress in attainment, completion, costs, and affordability.
- (My favorite) Focus scarce state resources on higher education productivity and completion–that is, rather than funding streams that reward only enrollment numbers, reward graduation rates also.
- Align K-12 and higher education standards and assessment (the Common Core is a big step in this direction).
Lumina is also partnering with Innocentive to “crowdsource” solutions for increasing higher educational attainment.
There are many other efforts underway to help teens from less stellar schools, low-income families, and underserved communities. These are but a handful. But what makes these stand out is their commitment to evaluating their progress with high-quality methods.