If you care about liberal education, should you worry about the fact that many bright students from lower income families are not applying to highly ranked institutions? The situation as analyzed in study soon to be published in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity is summarized by David Leonhardt of the New York Times, “Better Colleges Failing to Lure the Poor” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/education/scholarly-poor-often-overlook-better-colleges.html?hp&_r=0.
“Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges, according to the analysis, conducted by Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford and Christopher Avery of Harvard, two longtime education researchers. Among top students in the highest income quartile, that figure was 78 percent.
…many top low-income students instead attend community colleges or four-year institutions closer to their homes, the study found. The students often are unaware of the amount of financial aid available or simply do not consider a top college… “
That means in most cases that they have relatively low access to courses in the liberal arts and sciences, especially the humanities, and to the perspective that comes from the study of pre-modern and non-Western societies – and , of course, to other opportunities that relatively affluent institutions can provide
What causes this distribution of enrollment? Leonhardt focuses on the reluctance of some students to go to a college far away from home, and on the failure of some highly selective institutions vigorously to recruit such students. Those may be two sides of the same coin. In a recent conversation with the woman who runs a well-designed outreach program at a North Carolina university, I asked when the students she works with first heard the word “college,” and when they first set foot on a college campus. Don’t try to guess her answers; try the question out on your own campus. What’s clear is that time spent on a campus during the high school years, provided it has a true educational component, can make a huge difference to students, to their choice of colleges and majors, and, it appears, to long-term growth and achievement.