If we want to make a positive difference for the future of America, change begins with education. Emphasis must be placed on inclusion of all students, regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic status. Diversifying our nation’s elite colleges would be a step in the right direction. Increased number of college graduates from top universities equates to a more educated, skilled and productive workforce for our country.
Reaching the working-class student
Though many colleges and universities enroll students with diverse ethnicities from all over the globe, underprivileged students do not typically enjoy the same inclusion. Overall, college just isn’t as accessible to working-class students. What’s more troubling is that many low and middle class students could thrive at a top university, if only given the chance. Often, financially disadvantaged students who obtain top test scores and grades, don’t even bother applying to these schools.
Case in point: According to a study conducted by education researchers from Harvard and Stanford, just 34 percent of high school seniors who excelled academically and were in the bottom income distribution bracket, attended one of the nation’s selective colleges. For students in the highest income category, the figure was 78 percent. Although public and private universities have expressed a desire to recruit economically diverse students, it’s just not happening.
Unfortunately, of the low-income students who do choose to pursue higher education, many select community colleges or institutions based primarily on their proximity to home. The outcome of attending these schools is that less resources tend to be offered and many formerly high-achieving high school students, wind up not even graduating college.
Paving the way early on can set the tone for a child’s entire educational career. If programs and services can be tailored to the students who are most often overlooked, we may be able to positively influence the number of diverse college students. By identifying and targeting disadvantaged children as young as middle school age, schools may be able to, at the very minimum, provide information on the importance of quality higher education.
Resources and dedicated staff should be made available during the school day for students to access throughout their education. Delivering financial aid information and materials to interested students would also go a long way in establishing awareness for available assistance. It’s crucial that top ranked universities play their part, as well. Offering community outreach programs and forging public school partnerships in underprivileged areas, is a good place to start.
If institutions become more accessible to students via programming and recruitment endeavors, the odds that students will be fully informed when it comes time to consider higher education are increased.
Beyond test scores
In addition to emphasis on better targeting and programming throughout schooling, colleges may also want to examine their traditional means of determining and selecting candidates. Less focus on grades and SAT/ACT scores and more attention placed on student portfolios and potential should be in order. How a student will fare in college, and in the working world, aren’t always made evident by test scores. The option of taking other qualifications into account allows institutions the opportunity to greatly diversify their student population.
Another issue worth touching on is retention of diverse students and what can be done to ensure their collegiate success. Programs and support for non-traditional students would be ideal, even being offered prior to classes beginning, to aid in easing the transition. Resources specific to first-generation students, full-time working students and students who are parents, are just a few examples of the specifically targeted assistance that could make a positive impact.
The bottom line is, higher education opportunities need to be equally available to all. If we are to correct the inequality running rampant at colleges nationwide, special focus must be made to assist underprivileged students in their quest for higher education.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is a higher education consultant and owner of Lynch Consulting Group, LLC. He currently resides in Richmond, Virginia.