Saturday, July 19, 2014

Talented poor kids aren’t even applying to top schools that want them

I hadn't heard of this promising program in Delaware to address a vexing problem – talented poor kids aren't even applying to top schools that want them. Every state should be doing this:

Delaware's governor, Jack Markell, announced a program called Getting to Zero. Its goal was to get all high-school seniors with an SAT score of at least a 1,500 (out of 2,400) on the SAT to enroll in college. In recent years, state data show, about 20 percent of such teenagers did not.

State officials started the program last fall by working with the College Board to mail informational packets to all 1,800 high-school seniors deemed college-ready. In the packets, low-income students received application fee waivers to eight colleges, and students with the best test scores were encouraged to apply to top colleges. High-school guidance counselors and state officials then followed up with students and their parents — through evening phone calls and in-person meetings — to make sure the thorny logistics of college applications didn't deter them.

While it's too early to judge the program fully, the early results are impressive. Every single one of those 1,800 college-ready high-school seniors applied to at least one college, and 98 percent are on track to enroll.

Ms. Nye is among them. She will be attending Stanford University, where the admissions rate — as she told me with a sheepish laugh, after I'd asked — was 5.07 percent this year. "Give or take a little bit," she added.

Delaware's efforts are part of a national wave of interest in getting more low-income students to graduate from college. The reasons are obvious: The wage gap between college graduates and everyone else has reached a record high, and yet recent research has found that many qualified low-income students do not earn a bachelor's degree. In fact, the college-completion gap between low- and high-income students has grown sharply over the last 20 years.

Think for a moment about what that means: Many teenagers who overcome difficult childhoods or troubled high schools and excel as students nonetheless fail to finish college. Some never enroll, waylaid by bureaucracy, financial fears or low expectations. Others attend poorly funded colleges and end up d out — even as upper-middle-class students with less impressive records graduate from better-funded colleges.


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