No Progress on Poor Kids at Top Colleges

Despite effort, or the appearance of it, there has been no change in terms of getting high-achievers from low-income families to elite schools.

In 2006, at the 82 schools rated “most competitive” by Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 14 percent of American undergraduates came from the poorer half of the nation’s families, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and Georgetown University who analyzed data from federal surveys. That was unchanged from 1982. And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 percent to 11 percent.

What does make a difference? Investments of money, which most schools either can’t or won’t prioritize, and investments of time, like sending admissions officers to schools that are off the beaten track. Also, perhaps most importantly, helping students understand that the sticker price at high-end colleges is not what most middle- and working-class families pay:

a family can find that an elite education is either dauntingly expensive or surprisingly affordable. In 2011–12, net prices paid by families with incomes under $48,000 averaged less than $4,000 at Harvard, which has the nation’s largest endowment, for example, and more than $27,000 at New York University.

Yet another good reason not to go to NYU. More importantly, another good reason to come up with a way to incentivize, for elite schools, having a truly diverse student body. Factor it into their US News ranking? Give them greater support from the government, somehow, if they can really move the dial?

Or do you have an argument for why getting low-income kids into high-status schools is not as big a deal as it seems?

Pair with: This article about the conditions at Philly public schools.

Steve Flemming’s third-grade classroom at the J.B. Kelly School hasn’t been painted for 10 years. He has no bulletin boards. So he painted the room himself. And built a makeshift bulletin board. And then he rushed to a press conference called Thursday by State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.) to talk about how rough things were last year, and how they could be worse this coming school year.

Hughes released a report Thursday illustrating conditions inside schools, and called on parents to report to the state problems they see this year. “We do not see it getting better,” Flemming said. “This is not quality education.”

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