Myth Of Opportunity: Do The Best Schools Preserve Inequality?

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A New York Times story Sunday examines a disturbing study that came out in December that suggests that high achieving low income students don\’t even bother with the best schools. From an abstract about the study:

We show that the vast majority of very high-achieving students who are low-income do not apply to any selective college or university. This is despite the fact that selective institutions would often cost them less, owing to generous financial aid, than the resource-poor two-year and non-selective four-year institutions to which they actually apply. Moreover, high-achieving, low-income students who do apply to selective institutions are admitted and graduate at high rates.

…. We demonstrate that widely-used policies–college admissions staff recruiting, college campus visits, college access programs–are likely to be ineffective … 

The researchers, Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Christophy Avery of Harvard question whether elite schools are looking hard enough for top-shelf students from low income backgrounds. Inside Higher Ed writes:

Why aren\’t these students applying? The authors write that — from their data on the students\’ high schools — most of these students are unlikely to have met a teacher, counselor or older student who ever attended a selective college.

…In their conclusion, Hoxby and Avery say that their work shows there are more low-income students of high academic talent out there. Broadening recruiting would cost more in time and money than the current system, they write. But colleges today appear to be \”searching under the lamp post\” for the small number of students that are visible, rather than searching \”where the students are.\”

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3 thoughts on “Myth Of Opportunity: Do The Best Schools Preserve Inequality?

  1. enness

    The “best” school is the one that is best for the student. I wouldn’t have considered applying to Harvard, either — they didn’t have the program I wanted.

  2. Greg

    You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. Or the horse wants to drink water somewhere else.

    “We demonstrate that widely-used policies–college admissions staff recruiting, college campus visits, college access programs–are likely to be ineffective”

    According to the article, these such students are targeted and identified and recruited, but still chose another path. Why is this a crisis? You lay out the options for the student and let them decide. It’s nobody’s fault if someone chooses a UCONN, UMASS, or CCSU over a MIT or Brown assuming they have the full spread of options explained to them, the student makes up his/her own mind where they think they fit.

    I graduated from a very public, very urban high school in Waterbury back in the day and we had our top performers going all over the place; elite, ivy, or otherwise. Everyone knew their options, made the campus visits, spoke with recruiters, had scholarship offers, not to mention the full attention of the guidance counseling staff; kids pick the best place they feel fits. Period.

    Much to do about nothing. When will it be enough for people to make their own decisions without some do-gooder academics declaring it some sort of crisis when things aren’t what these enlightened professors think should be? Perhaps that’s the key…some old white man with a beard and tenure tells a smart, low-income, minority kid he’s an idiot for not going to Harvard…a self fulfilling prophesy.

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