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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Inequality and College Admissions

Previous posts have talked about the causes and consequences of inequality, as well as the many forms it may take. An article in Inside Higher Ed suggests one way in which residential separation may entrench inequality:
The nation's most elite colleges and universities have in recent years added numerous programs to help students from low-income backgrounds enroll. And at many such institutions, low-income students would not need to pay anything, or would have to make only very small contributions to the annual tab. So why, at some of these institutions, is one more likely to find a student with a second home than one with a Pell Grant?
A new study finds that a majority students with low incomes but high academic ability never apply to a single competitive college. Further, the study finds that many colleges are searching for these students at a very small number of high schools -- and in the process are missing lots of other talent. The study -- by Caroline M. Hoxby, a professor of economics at Stanford University, and Christopher Avery, a professor of public policy at Harvard University -- was released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research. (An abstract is available here.)
A minority of low-income, academically talented students follow the same pattern, and these students exhibit what the scholars call "achievement typical" behavior. But most exhibit "income typical" behavior when it comes to applying for colleges, and they apply to the sorts of institutions where those of similar income (but far less demonstrated academic ability) tend to enroll.
Indeed, 53 percent of low-income, highly talented students do not apply to a single selective college that doesn't have significantly lower average grades and test scores for admitted applicants than for these students -- and these students do apply to at least one college that is not selective at all.
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.