A recent report out of Colorado included this graphic from The Brookings Institution. Take a good look at it and you’ll notice that a college graduate born in the lowest income quintile is, at 20%, more likely to be in the top income quintile than to remain in the very lowest quintile. Likewise, a New York Times article, asking the question, “Is college worth it?”, firmly concludes: Yes, college is worth it, and it’s not even close. For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable.
Not that a college education is only about future earning power. A great deal of research has also considered more “fuzzy” indicators, like happiness and well-being, along with such factors as health status and employment satisfaction among college graduates. You can guess what the majority of these findings show, and it’s summed up well by the mere title of this piece from The Huffington Post – “Want To Be Happier And Healthier? Then Go To College.”
All of the above being as it is, it’s a sad state of affairs that large gaps exist in the college access and success prospects of different groups of students. Underserved students (e.g. minorities, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and/or first-generation students), in particular, would greatly benefit from having access to high-quality guidance during the college admissions process, and yet many are never given the opportunity to take advantage of this type of support. Why? Some of the most common barriers to college access among underserved student groups include an information gap, low expectations, and negative stereotypes. However, other barriers to college enrollment may also be tied to logistic challenges, such as not living in geographic proximity to four-year colleges or having other responsibilities (e.g. taking care of family members) that students may feel put them out of the running for an undergraduate education.
Our advice for school counselors, teachers, and administrators who work with underserved students?
- Work to close the information gap! For instance, make sure that students are aware of fly-in programs; the FAFSA; Pell Grants; scholarship opportunities; the Federal Work-Study Program; important dates; the College Scorecard; college application fee waivers; the list of over 800 colleges and universities that are now test-optional; admissions options (in terms of applying early decision, early action, regular admissions, or rolling admissions); useful websites; and the fact that many schools have support programs in place for underserved students, like Wellesley College’s WellesleyPlus program and MIT’s First Generation Program.
- As was noted in this article from The Atlantic, “The reality of it is that a lot of low-income kids could be going to elite universities on a full ride and don’t even realize it.” College could be more affordable than students suspect! Along these lines, ensure that students and their families consider a college’s net price (and not the sticker price) when thinking about where to apply – a great tool for this is Pell Abacus! For example:
- In thinking about putting together a college list, also make sure that your students are aware of prospective colleges’ graduation rates. Schools with higher graduation rates, in general, do more to support their students as they progress towards that crucial graduation day finish line!
- Take advantage of some of the incredibly useful resources that are out there and at your disposal. For example, in helping students to develop a robust and well-balanced college list, you can use Admitster’s free (and very cool) online College List Builder tool!
- Know that The New York Times publishes an annual College Access Index, which is “a measure of top colleges’ commitment to lower-income students – defined by the economic diversity of the student body, the price that colleges charge, and their graduation rates.” You can find the most recent list by clicking here.
- Tune into the many wonderful organizations out there that are working to promote college access for underserved students, including QuestBridge, Reach Higher, College Summit, College Possible, and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
- Stay abreast of news and developments in the dynamic worlds of college admissions and higher education, for example, the 2014 release of the White House’s Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students report, the work of the Coalition for Access, Affordability & Success, and the recently released Turning The Tide report. A great way to stay tuned in to developments is through such organizations as Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education!
- Encourage college representatives to visit your high school, such as through the organization of a college fair, helping to create a school culture in which the idea of going to college is viewed as a viable post-high school next step. Along these lines, help students to decide which of the Common Application essay prompts to write about, hang college banners on the school walls, and support students in the discovery of new colleges and universities that they perhaps have never before considered. In short, take little steps that collectively help to create a college-going culture in your school.
- You can also organize college admissions and financial planning information sessions for parents. A step such as this shows that you have high collegiate expectations for your students and also helps families to see college as an achievable goal.
- Encourage students to challenge themselves academically, for instance, through enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. If your school doesn’t offer AP courses, or offers only a few select AP options, know that students can also take AP courses online. Some examples of organizations that offer online courses include Apex Learning Virtual School, The Virtual High School, The Keystone School, the National University Virtual High School, and Virtual High School. Furthermore, some colleges and universities offer online AP courses, for instance, the University of California and Northwestern University.
- Another great strategy is to set up a mentor program in your school. One option is to encourage alumni who are currently in college or who have graduated from college to pair with current high school students, aiding them by sharing insights and lessons drawn from personal experience on the college journey. You can also consider mentor programs outside of your school, for instance, mentor2.0, a “Big Brothers Big Sisters’ technology-enriched, emailed supported, one-to-one youth mentoring program”, or Strive For College.
- Finally, consider working with Admitster’s school partnership program, Partnership For College Success, to ensure college coaching for every student at your school, and starting as early as the 9th grade. Through this program, our experts work side-by-side with you to assure that your students and families have access to personalized and comprehensive college admissions guidance, including accurate and timely information and sustained support throughout the process.
Through collaborative, all-hands-on-deck initiatives, we can make real progress towards securing college access and success for all students.