Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students

Despite sterling academic records and substantial financial-aid opportunities, high-achievers from poor families rarely even apply to America’s elite colleges and universities. In a previous study, researchers Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery attributed this to an information deficit: These kids (the researchers excluded kids who attend “feeder” schools) tend to reside in small towns located far from selective colleges and attend high schools with overworked, ill-prepared counselors and student bodies less attuned to selective college admissions. This follow-up study, conducted by Hoxby and Sarah Turner, examines one potential solution: thoughtful, tailored information about selective college admissions that is delivered to students’ doorsteps. In 2009, Hoxby and Turner established the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) program, which randomly mailed college informational packets to thousands of high-ability seniors (12,000 of them in 2011–12). The main finding: Sending students informational materials—especially materials that offered clear financial-aid information—caused these youngsters to apply to and matriculate at colleges of greater selectivity at greater rates. Even more noteworthy, the packets cost just six bucks a pop to produce and mail. The upshot: Instead of languishing in (or dropping out of) a college beneath their abilities, they’ll seek out a campus suited to their gifts. If, as the authors suggest, ECO (or a kindred program) is scaled to reach all of the nation’s high-flying, low-income kids, it could seriously shrink the college-opportunity gap; here’s hoping.

SOURCE: Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, “Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee schools,” Education Finance and Policy 8 (1): 43-73.

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