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Low-income students can afford top colleges

June 5, 2013

It is my pleasure in this season of graduations to report the explosion of a pervasive and destructive educational myth. Middle and lower-income families have traditionally believed that colleges ranking highest in terms of educational resources were too expensive, but new research reveals that students attending state and other lower-ranked schools end up paying more for education than if they had been accepted at highly selective ones.

Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Stanford, found that only a “minority of high-achieving, low-income students apply to colleges in the same way that other high-achieving students do,” and as a result most of their peers from public high schools attend state or local post-secondary schools that cost more—for the simple reason “that selective colleges typically cost high-achieving, low-income students less while offering them more generous resources than the non-selective postsecondary institutions they mainly attend.” Among their resources, highly selective universities have more money with which to attract and nurture students.

The reason Hoxby gives is uncomplicated: “high-achieving, low-income students are unlikely to be reached by traditional methods of informing students about their college opportunities.” In other words, students are not made aware of better opportunities—not by administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches or other students in the same boat.

Hoxby is offering an intervention for such students. It costs $6 and can be linked at siepr.stanford.edu/?q=/system/files/shared/pubs/papers/12-014paper.pdf, or search Caroline Hoxby Stanford publications.

Public high schools no longer have an excuse for not sending their high-achieving students to the highest-ranked universities, those that typically provide financial aid to 60% of their students. This information could be worth tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars to next year’s high school grads.

Anthony Splendora
Milford, PA