Drawing more low-income students to college

Inside Higher Ed reports on a new consortium to make college more affordable and more accessible for low-income “B+” students who may not now aspire to colleges with higher graduation rates and more competitive admissions.

And as is often the case, the attention is focused on higher status colleges, not the regional state schools were *most* students enroll:

Meanwhile, the identity of the colleges being targeted in the initiative is one major line of criticism. Some argue that to truly help more low- and moderate-income students graduate, you need to pump money into the public colleges and universities they attend — often nonflagship state universities. While the low-income students who are admitted to Harvard thanks to this program will certainly benefit, critics say, the overall problem of access to higher education won’t be addressed, since most low-income students will never be admitted to these institutions.

via Effort launches to boost low-income enrollment at top colleges

Public Colleges, Wealthier Students


Yet more on the lure of higher income students in these times of diminished state funding.

“Because the state contributes a smaller and smaller proportion of UW-Madison’s operating budget, the university administration naturally considers alternative ways of raising revenues, and the many wealthy applicants offer a quick, attractive alternative,” the study authors wrote.

“Poverty Preference” in Admissions

A new report calls for elite institutions to affirmatively recruit and admit high achieving students in poverty, arguing that there is ample evidence that these students will thrive once admitted.

Students from families in the bottom economic quartile comprise only three percent of enrollment in the most competitive schools, while those from the top economic quartile comprise 72 percent.

via True Merit.

Hidden Help and Hiding Out in College

There’s a growing literature on how intensely middle class parents invest in their children’s success, from Annette Lareau’s now classic study  showing the “concerted cultivation” parenting of extensive  involvement in extra curricular activities, driving, advising, and being audience for children’s many performances; to extensive involvement in children’s daily challenges; to ongoing advice  and engagement in students’ college success and then negotiating connections for first jobs.

I mention this research when I’m talking with faculty and staff who so often lament that First Generation college students “won’t ask for help”.  We talk about how students who may have had to be incredibly independent and self-motivated and resourceful to get themselves to college may believe that they now have to prove that they can do it on their own, or may be doubting that they deserve help, or may simply not know that help is available.  Or they may balk at the term “help” that can imply  that they are in trouble.

I talk about this literature in middle class child-rearing to remind colleagues that most college kids whose parents have college degrees have had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours of hidden “help” before they ever set foot in a college classroom.  In their terrific book Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality,  Elizabeth Armstrong and Linda Hamilton write of one such student who was admitted to a competitive professional graduate program:

Here Taylor’s parents coaching, inside information, and efforts to keep her on track academically paid off.  These benefits however were invisible to those evaluating her, as they were instantiated in her record.  Taylor … simply looked more intelligent, accomplished, and suited for the professional than most applicants.  (p. 200).

So when I read the headline about this new study about the success of  “intensive” college counseling for low-income students, I thought at first that we might be talking about similar levels of support to those now taken for granted by the children of college graduates.

But no. The low-income students in this study –who attend high schools with exceptionally high student-to-counselor ratios — were able to access one hour of counselor time every two weeks.

But this one hour mattered in where students wound up going to college.

When we talk about ways to support First Generation students in going to and succeeding in college, I want to also talk out loud about the genuinely intensive “help” that their middle-class peers have had.  I want to talk out loud about how this help is made invisible.

And I want to talk very specifically about explaining to First Generation students that in going to office hours, lobbying the financial aid staff for information, connecting with the campus counselors, or staying on the radar of academic advisors, they are still accessing a fraction of the “help” that others take for granted.

And that it will matter.

And that in doing so, they’ll continue their trajectory of getting themselves where they want to go, step-by-step,  chipping away at the odds stacked against them from the start.


When More Parental Support is Less

I just finished reading Laura Hamilton’s article More is More or More is Less: Parental Financial Investments During College (published behind academic firewalls in American Sociological Review, Vol, 78, 2012).

Introducing her study, she writes:

Because parental aid increases access to college, students with parental assistance will likely display a wider range of ability and motivation. In contrast, students who make it to college with little to no parental help may not only be exceptionally talented but also uniquely motivated — for which there is no good empirical proxy.

She found, indeed, that students receiving more money from their parents while in college are more likely finish their degree but also more likely to have lower GPAs than other students.

I think that this is such a smart study because:

  1. It questions the long-standing assumption that generous parenting is inherently good for students.
  2. It concedes that upper-middle class ways of being are not the model for all other students.  Working, for example, may actually contribute to students’ investment in higher ed.
  3. It puts all  the fuss about things like SAT exams into context.  The SAT is a low predictor of eventual success in college for many populations, yet many colleges continue to require entrance exams.  If the amount of financial support that students get will get from parents does predict eventual GPA, might admissions preferences not then be given to those students who will *not* be supported as generously by parents, if the goal of admissions is to admit those most likely to succeed?

Researchers invest a great deal of time studying those on the margins of formal schooling.    It is good to also see studies looking more closely at those considered to be the norm.