Countless low-income students may be missing out on the opportunity to attend the best universities. It's not because they don't make the grades; they do. It's not because they can't afford the tuition; with careful planning and financial aid, they can. As The Atlantic reports, it's because they're being misinformed about the their higher learning options. Yes, that's an economic issue.
A study of 12,000 high-achieving students has determined that smart, economically disadvantaged youths are settling for less when it comes to their college education. Economics professors Caroline Hoxby, of Stanford, and Christopher Avery, of Harvard, found that low-income students are less likely to attend or even apply to top schools on the basis that they've misunderstood the benefits of a liberal arts education, or assume the tuition is so beyond their resources that it's not worth considering. As such, they tend to wind up in sub-par schools that may stymie their academic growth.
Avery and Hoxby's research blamed misinformation for the lack of collegiate ambition. Typically, the job of shepherding students through the college application process falls on the parents and high school guidance counselors. In the U.S., well-funded schools typically have multiple counselors and even advisers to focus specifically on higher learning. That's not always the case with under-funded schools. A combination of high drop-out rates, startling student-to-teacher ratios, and a lack of dedicated counselors all leave promising academics without the guidance they need. It doesn't matter that they can likely get their tuition covered by grants, scholarships, and financial aid if they don't know about it and don't have anyone to help them navigate the system. Once again their low-income status has let them down.
It's also unfortunate for the schools. If a university can enroll students who are ready for college, but bring more socio-economic diversity to the student body, it opens the doors to an array of ideas and points of view on campus and in the classroom.
It sounds bleak, but there may be a solution. Avery and Hoxby have designed the "Expanding College Opportunities," or ECO-C, program, which provides the college information these students need. The researchers found that using the program had a strong impact on students' college decisions. Could this be the light at the end of the tunnel for disadvantaged students?