Expanding College Opportunities

Yesterday’s post focused on talking to babies; today we are talking about what happens when these babies grow up into young adults: college opportunities. African American economist Carolyn Hoxby, a Stanford economist in residency at Stanford’s Hoover Institute, is focused on helping students expand their opportunities to attend college. She recently presented her research at a “master class” at the NBC News Education Nation 2013 summit.

Hoxby has spent years studying why lower-income students with stellar grades and high entrance exam scores — about 35,000 nationwide each year, by her estimate — weren’t even applying to top colleges. These students were applying and getting into colleges, but often they were community colleges which did not offer the same range of academic options as the more selective ones. She found that bright students who lived far from elite universities or were not attending schools popular with college recruiters were less likely to be discovered by these universities. Moreover, these students were typically misinformed about the quality and affordability of the more selective colleges.

Hoxby’s research revealed that many students simply did not know that opportunities existed for them to apply to and attend these more selective schools. She determined that simple low-cost steps can be taken which can substantially increase the number of disadvantaged students who apply to and graduate from top colleges. Her “Expanding College Opportunities” project conducts an “information intervention”, sending customized packets of materials to high achievers from low-income families. These packets do not recommend any specific colleges, but contain step-by-step guides to applying to schools which include fee waivers for tests and application fees.

After its initial distribution of the Expanding College Opportunity Guides, Hoxby compared the group of high-achieving, low-income students who opened the guides with similar students who didn’t receive one. They found the guide recipients were 55.8 percent more likely to apply to a “peer,” or higher-ranked, school, 77.5 percent more likely to be admitted to a peer school, 46.3 percent more likely to enroll in one, and the guide recipients were admitted to 30.8 percent more colleges. These results convinced the College Board (which administers the SAT) to send the packet to students in the class of 2014 who scored above the 90th percentile and were likely to come from lower-income homes.

Simply stated, information is key to helping high-achieving low-income students understand and take advantage of their educational opportunities. Kudos to Hoxby and her team for this focus and their findings.

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