Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project

The missed opportunity in the education of gifted students runs up and down the system, including into and beyond the college gate. Last December, Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery showed that there are far more high-achieving, low-income students than previously thought—but that these young people, unaware of their options, often do not even apply to selective colleges. Now, Hoxby and Sarah Turner report on a well-crafted intervention aimed at closing the information gap. It’s called the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) Project. After sending and emailing customized informational packets (which consisted of college-specific information and application fee waivers, alongside guidance on how to apply to selective colleges, on the net cost of college, and on colleges’ varying graduation rates—all at $6 a pop) to high-achieving seniors (10,000 of them in 2010–11, with a control group of 2,500, and 15,000 in 2011–12, with a control group of 3,000), the authors saw positive results: Compared to the control group, recipient students were 20 percent more likely to apply to public and private schools with similarly high-achieving students. And in this Hamilton Project paper, the authors outline ways to bring this initiative to scale: First, in order to scale up the number of students reached, the ECO project will need to team up with credible, established institutions, such as the College Board and ACT. Second, because the Census recently stopped gathering data on incomes, housing values, occupations, and adults’ education, the authors propose that the federal government allow them access to other sources of this data—via FAFSA, for instance, or Title IV programs. Third, the authors propose to apply similar interventions to different subgroups of students, such as those earlier in the high-school sequence, guiding them on AP classes or subject-specific achievement tests. Lastly (and predictably), the authors call for more research.

SOURCE: Caroline M. Hoxby and Sarah Turner, “Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project,” Hamilton Project Discussion Paper 2013-03 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, June 2013).

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