A Plan To Get Poor Students Into Selective Colleges

PHOTO: Graduates of Columbia Universitys lauded School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) line up outside before SIPAs commencement exercises at St. John the Divine cathedral May 17, 2004 in New York City.

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Top students from poor backgrounds are far less likely than those from wealthy families to apply to the nation’s most selective schools.

Now, College Board, the group that administers the SAT, is looking to change that.

Only about a third of high-achieving but poor high school seniors enroll in one of the country’s top 200 most selective colleges, according to recent research by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University and Christopher Avery of Harvard University.

College Board will send fee waivers and other application information to targeted students to encourage them to apply.

The researchers found that when those students enroll in top schools, they are just as likely to succeed as their peers who enroll at less selective colleges. And top schools can often serve as a better launch pad since they tend to offer greater networking opportunities and have more counseling and career resources.

Up until now, though, colleges have done a poor job of identifying and reaching out to promising students. And the students, who are often the first in their family to apply to college, can be overwhelmed by the process on their own.

College Board will try to help bridge that divide.

The group has access to data about where high-performing but poor students live based on SAT and PSAT tests. So they’ve begun sending targeted information and application fee waivers to students based on a follow-up study Hoxby and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia conducted.

That study revealed that basic outreach -- making students aware that some private schools waive tuition for poor students and providing targeted financial aid information -- has a sizeable impact. When kids feel like they understand the system and have easy-to-digest information delivered directly to them by a reputable source, they submit applications.

A College Board spokeswoman said the group will pick up the costs of the packets and that it was important to help give more bright, low-income students access to college opportunities.

Each packet will cost $8. College Board sent about 7,000 in May and another 20,000 or so will go out in the beginning of October to high school seniors who score in the top 15 percent on the SAT or PSAT and who fall into the bottom quarter when it comes to income distribution.

They will receive follow-up emails with things like financial aid form deadlines and college planning tips. The long-term objective, the spokeswoman said, is to reach students earlier using PSAT scores.

The program is still in the early stages, but College Board hopes there will be more low-income, high-achieving students attending classes at top universities next fall.

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