As President Obama focuses on lowering the cost of college education, he is overlooking another equally important challenge: ensuring that all students, regardless of their income level, have the opportunity to attend selective colleges.
Every year thousands of low-income students in the U.S. “under-match” in college admission, landing at colleges that are not the strongest academic fit for them. Most of these students never even apply to the best colleges they could be admitted to because they have no idea what their college options really are.
The stakes could not be higher: Over his or her lifetime, a U.S. college graduate earns nearly $3 million more than someone who has not graduated from college. Students who attend selective colleges are much more likely to graduate. And, because selective colleges tend to offer more substantial scholarship packages, their net cost to students is often lower, and students are able to graduate with less debt.
A study by Stanford professor Caroline Hoxby and Harvard professor Christopher Avery showed that students in the top quartile of academic achievement and the bottom quartile of family income are more likely to apply to lower-priced local schools that do not prepare them for a successful career, while students in the top quartile of family income are more likely to apply to more selective schools regardless of their academic qualifications.
A second study showed that when high-achieving, low-income students were informed about their college options, they applied and matriculated to more selective colleges than their peers who were not given this information.