low-income students

Efforts grow to make higher-ed recruitment more equitable for low-income students


Research shows recruitment efforts focus on affluent white high schools

As institutions face criticism over disparities in different racial groups’ access to higher education, a record number of universities have pledged to focus on enrolling low-income students.

The American Talent Initiative (ATI), first launched in December 2016, reached a milestone in April when 100 universities total had signed on to target enrollment for low- and moderate-income students. The goal is to enroll 50,000 students with strong graduation rates by 2025.

ATI member institutions are required to graduate at least 70 percent of their students in six years. Membership in ATI now includes the entire Ivy League, 17 state flagship universities, and private colleges.

ATI universities are using a number of strategies designed to enroll high-achieving lower-income students, including better recruitment of qualified high school graduates from lower-income communities. The universities also will increase the number of applications from Pell-eligible students, the number of Pell-eligible students who are enrolled, and the number of first-generation students enrolled.

The pledge comes in the wake of research revealing U.S. colleges and universities tend to recruit affluent white high school students over lower-income students and students from minority communities.

The research from UCLA and the University of Arizona has implications for campus demographics and access to higher education.

“All students who work hard and get good grades in high school should have equal opportunity to attend our nation’s top colleges and universities, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status,” says co-author and UCLA assistant professor Ozan Jaquette. “Colleges and universities say that they want to increase opportunity for low-income students and students of color, but our analysis finds that most colleges and universities prioritize affluent, white schools, while often ignoring schools in poor communities and communities of color.”

Of public universities sampled in the research, the majority focus their recruiting efforts on wealthy out-of-state high schools. Those high schools tend to have higher populations of white students than unvisited high schools.

Public and private universities spend a disproportionate amount of visits on private high schools instead of public, and those private high schools enroll a much higher percentage of white students than public high schools.

Colleges and universities are more likely to visit affluent, predominantly white schools than they are to visit highly proficient schools in poor communities and/or schools with mostly minority students.

“The debate around access to higher education too often focuses on students’ abilities while ignoring the role that colleges and universities play in targeting specific populations of potential students,” says report co-author and University of Arizona doctoral candidate Karina Salazar. “We hope that our data will provide the attention and insight needed to create change that will make college access more equitable.”

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Laura Ascione

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