Low Income and College

This past summer visiting a local youth recreation facility, I encountered a young African-American girl sitting with a friend. I was there doing some research on why the dismal numbers of low income high school students attending college. What I wanted to accomplish is conduct some informal surveys on what was keeping so many from even applying, or to a lesser extent , to even think about or trying. From a non-scientific perspective, first thoughts are low income families are less driven, less motivated, prone to laziness, low intelligence, and desire only to live out their destined lives. This is what many believe based on the rhetoric from politicians, media, and the general public. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover much of that sentiment is myth based on stereotypes, falsehoods, and misogynistic ideals.

For example, low income high school students perform equally well in the classroom when compared to high income students in AP/Honor classes. The same is true in regards to SAT/ACT testing. Where the gap occurs is in support and resources for test preparation and coursework. Higher income students are afforded access to tutors, aides, integrated learning experiences like museums & science centers, the arts, and athletics. UCLA conducted research which the results were somewhat surprising but not shocking. They found affluent families spend 1300 hours more than low-income at “other” places than home (museums, daycare, and school). Affluent families spent 400 additional hours on literacy. Yet, money can’t always be the equalizer as we’re led to believe since they’re other variables for consideration and that have an impact. Variables such as: community, family, educational history, life circumstances, health, and economics.

They are of course outliers to anything who buck all odds and achieve beyond their experience and that of the majority. They should be acknowledged and commended for their achievements and contributions. My center is on those that fight and struggle to make something of themselves in spite of, irregardless of, no matter, and by any means necessary. This is the exact spirit for which our country was built upon. (Not diving into history of exploitation practices here!)

So, what does it take for low income students and families to prosper? First it requires our nation to care. Maybe not every person as that’s not realistic. But, if the efforts of the many empathetic heartfelt non-profit service providers can expand and meld with the masses, then change can occur. We see examples like Kiva, Gates Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and so many others trying to make a difference in the lives of the undeserved. Secondly, personlization and customization from our educational institutions could make a huge impact on their everyday lives and instill direction with guidance and sentiment. Thirdly, providing convenience for access. Not providing easiness but simplicity to education, learning, and information. The Khan Academy is a great example of online learning being made available to the masses. Studies show making learning relevant and integrated will dramatically increase retention and knowledge. This requires a shift in delivery resulting in defined and measurable outcomes.

Biggest factors for low income high students getting into college isn’t money.

  1. Poor guidance
  2. Un personalized presentation and dissemination of college materials & information
  3. Low benchmarks of expectations
  4. Overall lack of knowledge and awareness to finance college

Some years ago I was the Executive Director of a Boys & Girls Club and was one the most fulfilling, exhaustive, inspiring, and challenging jobs. I also had the opportunity to work at private K-12 schools and experienced the same joys, advancements and successes to those at the Boys & Girls Club. My primary takeaway from those experiences is parents simply want the best for the children. They want to provide opportunities they didn’t have and ultimately put their children in a place to be the most successful.