Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students

via SIEPR Policy Brief
Monday, December 1, 2014

Abstract
Only a minority of high-achieving, low-income students apply to colleges in the same way that other high-achieving students do: applying to several selective colleges whose curriculum is designed for students with a level of achievement like their own.  This is despite the fact that selective colleges typically cost them high-achieving, low-income students less while offering them more generous resources than the non-selective postsecondary institutions they mainly attend.  In previous work, we demonstrate that the vast majority of high-achieving, low-income students are unlikely to be reached by traditional methods of informing students about their college opportunities since such methods require the students to be concentrated geographically.  In this study, we use a randomized controlled trial to evaluate interventions that provide students with semi-customized information on the application process and colleges' net costs.  The interventions also provide students with no-paper work application fee waivers.  The ECO Comprehensive (ECO-C) Intervention costs about $6 per student, and we find that it causes high-achieving, low-income students to apply and be admitted to more colleges, especially those with high graduation rates and generous instructional resources.  The students respond to their enlarged opportunity sets by enrolling in colleges that have stronger academic records, higher graduation rates, and more generous resources.  Their freshman grades are as good as the control students', despite the fact that the control students attend less selective colleges and therefore compete with peers whose incoming preparation is substantially inferior.  Benefit-to-cost ratios for the ECO-C Intervention are extremely high, even under the most conservative assumptions.  

Available from SIEPR.


Media coverage
"A Simple Way to Send Poor Kids to Top Colleges" by David Leonhardt The New York Times March 29 2013.

"From Poverty to a Top-Tier College" by The Editorial Board The New York Times April 10 2013.

"How Do You Get Poor Kids to Apply to Great Colleges?" by Nancy Hass Smithsonian Magazine, December 2013 (video here).

"A Low-Cost Way to Expand the Horizons of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students" by Beckie Supiano The Chronicle of Higher Education March 29 2013.

"Admissions 101: Why Smart, Poor Students Are Dumb" by Jay Matthews The Washington Post April 25 2013.

"Attracting the Missing Students" by Scott Jaschik Inside Higher Ed April 1 2013.

"What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities?" by Shannon Doyne The New York Times April 1 2013.

"Tackling the Geographical Dispersion of Low-Income High-Achievers, Part II: Actually Tackling the Problem" by Reihan Salam The Agenda March 30 2013.

"Poor Students at Rich Colleges" by Catherine Rampell in Economix blog at the New York Times, September 28 2009.

PBS Newshour

NBC News

NPR: Basic Marketing May Be To Blame For Fewer Low Income Students At Top Universities

NPR: Elite Colleges Struggle To Recruit Smart Low Income Kids

NPR: Students of Color Don't Apply To Top Schools But They Should

NPR: For Low Income Students Right College At Right Price A Challenge