Glenn Yong ’11 provides these comments on “Access to the Most Selective Private Colleges by High-Ability, Low-Income Students: Are They Out There?,” by Gordon C. Winston and Catharine B. Hill.

1. The authors of the article underestimate the opportunity cost of attending college. With the COFHE schools offering need-based aid, tuition, room and board are almost non-factors for a high school senior from the lower income quintiles choosing a college. I know that when I applied, difference in tuition was something I did not even consider, as I knew that I would only be paying my EFC, whatever the cost of attending that particular college. For students from the income groups in question, the real opportunity cost would come from the wages he/she would have received from working right out of college. Many of these are actually reasonably well-paying (eg. soldier, cop, firefighter, plumber, stuntman, drug pusher). Furthermore, family conditions, such as a disabled parent, may preclude the student from moving away from home.

2. While we are quick to assume that underrepresentation of these students in COFHE schools is a bad thing, this is not necessarily so. I firmly believe that students from elite and prep schools are too deeply rooted in “the process”, to reflect on what they actually want out of life. Read this. Poorer students from less demanding high school may have realized that going to a COFHE college will not take them on the path they want, wasting four year, plenty of money, as well as over a hundred thousand dollars in forsaken wages in the process.

3. Over-representation of wealthy students in COFHE schools is vicious cycle. Prospective students from the lower income quintiles visit, feel out-of-place and choose not to apply.. same thing happens to students from subsequent years.

4. How then do the colleges break out from the aforementioned cycle? With fewer poor students applying, the only way to increase their population in the school would be to decrease admission standards for this group. This however will lead to 1. less spaces for the deserving rich, 2. a drop in (ahem) third-party rankings. The data in the article clearly shows that the proportion of rich at COFHE schools far surpasses the share they deserve based on SAT/ACT scores, so the first issue will be but an equalizer. National rankings have an undeniable impact on the number of applications. However, since COFHE schools regularly place right at the top of these rankings, as a group they have a lot more clout than Reed. The COFHE schools could agree to only provide data once every three, or five years, so that short term changes in admissions policy in order to jumpstart lower-income enrollment do not adversely affect any college’s standing. Going one step further, COFHE schools could even pledge to pull out of the ranking en masse, allowing them to reshape their student bodies as they wish to best fulfill their educational mission without having to worry about a repercussion on rankings.

5. Another problem highlighted in the article was the lack of awareness of need-blind admission and generous financial aid by low-income students. One simple solution to this would be to invite former financial aid recipients from disadvantaged neighborhoods to return to their hometowns and explain to students there the benefits of college education at a top college, and how future earnings can and will offset the opportunity cost of four years of wages.

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