Six Ways the College Experience Can Change for Low-Income Students
I think we owe it to all of our students to focus on what they’re really interested in in their lives and careers. Educational opportunities have to have real value, and that doesn’t come from just a top of the line math program or sciences program. It’s about putting a student in a room with someone who knows their job as well as they do, someone who has the same values they do, someone who shares their expertise.
Over the past decade, Princeton University has eliminated its SAT score requirement for admission. The rule of thumb at Princeton back then was that kids from elite schools had to have a 900 SAT score in order to get admitted. Today, low-income kids from under-represented backgrounds typically require a 500-600 score to get admitted. It’s the fastest way for kids from under-represented backgrounds to get in.
How can we do that? The first thing is to get rid of SAT scores as an admission requirement. Princeton is helping to lead the way by eliminating its SAT requirement. But a good thing to do as a college is to immediately include low-income, under-represented students in the initial admissions process. Second, as soon as they are admitted, the goal is to then work with them for three, four, or even five years and find out as much as possible about their interests and their skill sets, about what they’re doing in the community. Maybe they have an internship program; maybe they’re involved in nonprofit work, working for themselves, just trying to get by. All of these things can be an opportunity to get to know a kid in a much more intimate way.
3. Studies show that low-income students are not just not as studious as high-income students. One study estimates that 32 percent of low-income college students will not graduate from college. It’s very hard to graduate if you don’t have a great background and if your family isn’t involved.
So the fact that there’s an SAT test is a real barrier to these kids going to college. And as someone who works with low-income kids I also believe that the test is a real barrier. So, there is evidence that low-income kids are less likely to pursue a college education. It’s a real barrier. Because of this, how we think about college is really important. Once we think about that, then we can do things and make a real difference in the world.
Getting rid of SAT scores is the obvious way to get more low-income kids in college, but making sure that the colleges that are already in their community are accessible—how do we do that? To get that first connection with the most comprehensive university in the country. That’s what’s working.