Why So Many of the Country's Top-Achieving Low-Income
Students Never Go to College
Right now, there are high school seniors all over the United States receiving acceptance letters from colleges of their choice and deciding where to enroll in the fall.
There are also approximately 21,000 high school seniors whose academic achievement places them in the top 20 percent of the nation, but who will not enroll in college after high school because they are from poor families.
What's ironic, according to a recent study by sociologists at The Johns Hopkins University, is that this "talent loss" among students from low-income environments often has relatively little to do with their families' financial wherewithal. Instead, it often occurs because these students never receive practical advice on applying to college from their high school guidance counselors or other adults.
Wil l Jordan and S tephen Plank, researchers at Johns Hopkins' Center for Social Organization of Schools, conducted the study based on U.S. Department of Education national survey data and interviews with guidance counselors at large, urban schools.
According to U.S. Department of Education figures, about 2.5 million students graduate from U.S. high schools each year. In the top-achieving 20 percent of the Class of 1992 (500,000 students), 21 percent (105,000 students) were from families in the lower half of the nation's socioeconomic distribution. Of these very high-achieving, low-income students, roughly half of them did not enroll in a four-year college and fully 20 percent had not enrolled in any type of college community college or 4-year school within the first two years after high school. Many never even applied.
This figure of 20 percent starkly contrasts with the enrollment rates of the remaining high-achieving students, where 97 percent of the highest socioeconomic quartile and 92 percent of the second highest quartile enrolled in college.
Jordan and Plank found there are several reasons why these students, who could otherwise easily get into college, never enroll. Some just want to work and make money after high school, some enter the military and some simply don't like school.
But a predominant reason these students don't enroll, the researchers found, is that they didn't plan for college well. Many didn't seriously start to look into college until the second semester of their senior year. Often, they hadn't taken SATs or other achievement tests when they needed to or they had made poor choices in course selections. A large number didn't know about the availability of financial aid and scholarships and assumed that they couldn't afford college.
In the study, Plank and Jordan found a direct correlation between early (at least by tenth grade) and consistent talks about college between adults and students and college entrance rates, regardless of students' socioeconomic backgrounds.
"Unfortunately, in large, urban, at-risk schools, the burden to initiate these kinds of talks usually rests on the student," said Plank (pictured at left). "This is not an indictment of the guidance counselors. Very often they are responsible for over 500 students, and many feel their primary job is to do whatever it takes to keep students from dropping out and to focus on their more immediate social and emotional needs."
In schools where guidance counselors are overloaded, Plank and Jordan suggest that teachers might be enlisted as college advisors and each one follow about 30 students throughout high school.
Jordan (pictured at right) said, "The most important thing
is to have someone say early on to the student
things like Don't take that basket-weaving course, you need to
take this biology course,'
Or, This college looks interesting, why don't you go visit it?'
That kind of simple,
practical advice can make a difference for the rest of that
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