College is typically seen as something only the wealthy can afford, and for the most part, this is true. Consider these figures: 43% of students across the United States come from low-income families. Out of the 43%, the NSC Research Center found that only 56% of these students are likely to enroll in college right after high school, with only 21% completing their degree programs within six years. On the other hand, 71% of wealthy high school graduates are likely to immediately enroll in college, with a 57% chance of earning a bachelor’s degree within six years.
That said, beginning the journey to college is an intense one. Our chief executive officer Savinay Chandrasekhar explains that enrolment is the first challenge for low-income students, and the obstacles don’t stop there. The imbalance in the numbers is caused by an array of hurdles that kids from high-income families often get to skip entirely. These include financial instability/insufficiency, lack of guidance, family obligations, and other unexpected changes to life plans. Fortunately, recent years have introduced several initiatives to help low-income students overcome these hurdles. Here are a few of them:
The SAT Adversity Score
When looking at SAT scores, college admission boards typically do not examine the context wherein the student achieved their marks. But the SAT Adversity score is looking to change that. Implemented just last May, the new directive will provide colleges with an adversity score that considers a student’s social and economic background. This is measured with 31 factors, such as crime rate and poverty levels in a student’s neighborhood. Admission officers are now given a vague sense of how well a student did despite their odds. And while it raised a lot of eyebrows within the academic community, the measure has proven to be effective. A study conducted with eight universities found that given more robust contextual information about an applicant’s background, admissions officers from the likes of Cornell University are far more inclined to admit disadvantaged students.
American Talent Initiative
The American Talent Initiative targets low-income students and aims to expand their opportunities to ensure that they graduate within six years of their enrollment. With over 108 colleges participating across the country, all member institutions have begun enforcing various strategies designed to help achieve ATI’s goals to increase and sustain the number of low-income students by 50,000 in 2025. For instance, the New York Times reports that University of Denver is increasing financial aid for community college transfer students, while the University of Michigan plans to raise the number of Pell-eligible student enrolment to 20% by 2020. There are also more and more work-study programs being initiated to increase the retention of low-income students. Since starting in December of 2016, ATI member colleges and universities have enrolled 7,291 more low-income students into their hallowed halls.
Minds Matter’s Mentorship Program
It should be noted that although there are numerous available grants and scholarship opportunities today, sometimes it’s about more than just creating new ones — it’s ensuring that low-income students can grab them as well. Indeed, the ‘Financial Aid Guide’ published by Maryville University lists the many and often confusing grants and scholarships that are available for all incoming undergraduates. Many of these programs begin with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) program, which is a testament to the array of resources readily available on top of the new initiatives mentioned above. However, researchers from Harvard University found that additional guidance can also be effective in increasing the likelihood of undergraduate enrolment after high school. That’s because although the opportunities might be available, a lot of lower-income students simply do not have the role models to help guide them through the process and provide them the confidence they need to navigate the often intimidating waters of university bureaucracy.
We believe that access to higher education is something that needs to be within everyone’s reach — regardless of socioeconomic background. Our mentorship program here at Minds Matter pairs students with mentors who provide the guidance they need — from essay writing and entrance exam prep, down to financial aid and interview practicing. We want to equip motivated students with the vital skills they need for both college and career success, and our mentorship program has proven to be effective, with a 100% rate of Minds Matter graduates earning acceptance to college with scholarships.
Interested in helping out? You can learn more about what we do at Minds Matter here.
Feature article prepared by Julie Magner
Exclusively for mindsmatterdenver.org