More low-income students enrolling in college—but at less-selective institutions

Two new studies highlight persistent income-related gaps in college enrollment, showing that recent gains in the number of low-income college students have been concentrated primarily at less-competitive schools with fewer resources to support their success, writes The Atlantic.

Higher-income students far more likely to end up college-bound

Students from families with the highest socioeconomic status (SES) are 50 percentage points more likely to attend college than those from families with the lowest-income SES, according to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Tracking students who were in ninth grade in 2009, the NCES found that seven years later, 78 percent of students from the highest-SES families were in college, compared with just 28 percent of students from the bottom SES quintile.

More low-income students—but at less-resourced schools

There are, however, more low-income students attending college than ever before, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center. Pew found that the number of low-income students enrolling in college has risen “dramatically” over the past 20 years, noting that low-income students now make up almost one-third of the college student population nationwide. Yet, those gains have been concentrated at two-year, private for-profit, and less-selective four-year institutions. The Atlantic notes that 80 percent of college students seeking bachelor’s degrees attend schools that accept more than 50 percent of their applicants.

While college access advocates have lauded those institutions’ inclusive recruitment strategies, they also have voiced concerns that the regional, open-access colleges and universities making strides toward economic, racial, and ethnic diversity also tend to be poorly resourced. Inside Higher Ed reports that private, four-year colleges spend five times more per student than community colleges, and public, four-year colleges spend 60 percent more per student than community colleges. As explained by The Hechinger Report, the most selective institutions can invest more heavily in their students, achieve higher graduation rates, and send students on to higher earnings than less-selective schools.

A call for selective schools to ‘change the way they do business’

Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network, says elite colleges need to be more intentional about recruiting students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“The more selective institutions who want to recruit our students may need to change the way they do business,” she told The Hechinger Report. “They may need to start thinking about the high schools that they visit, the college fairs that they attend, and start going to some new places that they might not have gone before.”

About The American Talent Initiative

Building on its longstanding commitment to making education accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, Georgetown University in 2017 became a founding member of the ATI. Learn more about the initiative’s goals and activities on the ATI website.

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