A Missing link between Smart Students and Competitive Universities

As another National School Choice week draws to a close, the underlying theme of elementary and secondary school choice resonates throughout the goal of the week. However, another question of choice is all too often left unexplored. Why are academically successful low-income students in America choosing not to apply to selective higher educational institutions?

Lower income students with practically the same grades as their richer classmates are 75 percent less likely to apply to selective colleges. These students have put in the time and earned the grades, but they are limiting their own choices and future professional careers by deciding not to apply to highly selective colleges and universities. What can our higher educational system do to improve the chances of these smart and well deserving students going to highly selective colleges across the country?

Data collected by researchers Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery suggest that low-income students pay considerably less out of pocket in relation to the selectivity of the university they attend. The data line up with the growing trend among more selective universities, like Harvard, who are encouraging students from lower income backgrounds to apply to improve the university’s demographic and class composition.

College Attendance Graph

As the graph above demonstrates, many selective universities are helping reduce the out of pocket costs socioeconomically diverse students would have originally paid. These efforts aim to prevent low-income students from attending their less selective counterparts where, in some cases, they end up paying more than the actual advertised sticker price of the university.

Why aren’t these students applying? Some reasons offered is that the application process is too complicated for many to fill out; these students feel that they may not be able to pay back those loans; and a major reason is that most of these students are not aware of the federal financial aid available and the options that they could possibly be afforded. As a result, it is up to the higher educational institutions in conjunction with local school districts to work with lower-income students to educate them on the benefits of applying to selective universities and for federal financial aid.

The higher educational institution needs to work with low-income students and their families to explain what options are available to pay for college. Without this financial education reform and the proper guidance from friends, family, or school officials, these students will continue to go missing from our institutions of higher learning. Losing these students will be detrimental to America’s success, especially in a period where we are in need of more highly skilled and qualified workers.

Read the full version available at AAF’s website:

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