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Monday, April 24, 2017
Another Obstacle for Low-Income Students in College Admissions
Diversity may be a fashionable term in modern-day college admissions, but opponents need not shiver at the mention of its name. The reality is that the vast majority of American students at four-year universities are white and middle to upper-middle class.
College is often regarded as the ticket to middle class, but if most of its students are already on that train, how can the working class every hope to ascend?
All too often, discussions about "diversity" in higher education are reduced to partisan squabbles over the merits or faults with affirmative action policies. An emerging reality is that socioeconomic status has an even larger impact than race in terms of collegiate success. The fact that the two factors often exist on parallel tracks makes the discussion even more complex.
A recent study by the Center for the Study of Higher and Post-Secondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan, found that many students from lower income backgrounds faced an unexpected obstacle: information about the quality of their high schools.
Admissions officers receive data about the high schools of nearly all of their applicants. Some of the more valuable metrics evaluated include 1) quantity of AP courses offered, 2) number of students with limited English proficiency, and 3) average standardized test scores. Since lower income students are more likely to go to underserved high schools, they are also more likely to be regarded less favorably than high-income peers who graduated from more competitive (or better serviced) schools.
In its study, CSHPE found that admissions officers were 13% more likely to admit low-income students from underserved high schools, if they were simply provided more information about the quality of the school. Put another way, students from these schools weren't getting declined simply because they attended a lower-performing school, but because admissions committees simply didn't know enough about their schools.
The study is promising in the sense that it gives universities and high schools a somewhat easier goal to reach for in terms of buoying students from lower-income communities. Socioeconomic equality is a much tougher fix, but airing out these deficiencies in the college admissions process? That's a good baby step in the right direction.
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