We show that the vast majority of low-income high achievers do not apply to any selective college. This is despite the fact that selective institutions typically cost them less, owing to generous financial aid, than the two-year and nonselective four-year institutions to which they actually apply. Moreover, low-income high achievers have no reason to believe they will fail at selective institutions since those who do apply are admitted and graduate at high rates. We demonstrate that low-income high achievers' application behavior differs greatly from that of their high-income counterparts with similar achievement. The latter generally follow experts' advice to apply to several "peer," a few "reach," and a couple of "safety" colleges. We separate low-income high achievers into those whose application behavior is similar to that of their high-income counterparts ("achievement-typical") and those who apply to no selective institutions ("income-typical"). We show that income-typical students are not more disadvantaged than the achievement typical students. However, in contrast to the achievement-typical students, income-typical students come from districts too small to support selective public high schools, are not in a critical mass of fellow high achievers, and are unlikely to encounter a teacher who attended a selective college. We demonstrate that widely used policies—college admissions recruiting, campus visits, college mentoring programs—are likely to be ineffective with income-typical students. We suggest that effective policies must depend less on geographic concentration of high achievers.
Available from the Brookings Institute.
Media coverage (selected)
"Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor" by David Leonhardt The New York Times March 16 2013.
"Changing the Culture of College Application" by David Leonhardt The New York Times March 21 2013.
"Smart low-income kids aren't applying to good colleges" by Brad Plumer The Washington Post March 22 2013.
"The Missing Students" by Scott Jaschik Inside Higher Ed December 11 2012.
"Tackling the Geographical Dispersion of Low-Income High-Achievers" by Reihan Salam The Agenda March 22 2013.
"Poor Students at Rich Colleges" by Catherine Rampell in Economix blog at the New York Times, September 28 2009.
And a podcast released by Brookings.