Selective colleges and universities in the United States can increase the number of high-achieving low-income students enrolled by taking simple steps to reduce burdensome fees and improve transparency, a report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation finds.
Based on a survey of twenty-five hundred low-income high school seniors with GPAs above 3.8 and SAT or ACT scores in the top 15 percent, the report, Opening Doors: How Selective Colleges and Universities Are Expanding Access for High-Achieving, Low-Income Students (62 pages, PDF), found that concerns about tuition, fees, and room and board discouraged one in three of those seniors from applying to college. A previous JKCF report had found that at the nation's most selective colleges, just 3 percent of incoming freshmen were from families in the bottom income quartile, while 72 percent were from families in the top quartile. The latest report from the foundation also found that 23 percent of high-achieving low-income students went through the application process with no help from teachers, counselors, parents, or peer mentors, and that 44 percent never visited their first-choice school before applying.
To help selective schools improve the economic diversity of their student bodies, the report offers a fourteen-step action plan for simplifying the application process, recognizing the obstacles low-income students have had to overcome, and eliminating practices that put low-income students at a disadvantage. Recommendations include providing accessible information about financial and fee waivers; making clear the true cost of attendance after taking financial aid into account; paying for campus visits by low-income applicants; customizing messaging and partnering with high schools and community-based organizations to encourage low-income students to apply; and eliminating legacy admissions.
"Far too often, students with high intelligence and abilities are locked out of elite colleges because they have financial need," said JCKF executive director Harold O. Levy, a former New York City schools chancellor. "This is tragic, not just for the students but for our nation because it deprives us of the full measure of their talents."