This quandary left school officials wondering why these types of students were not coming to their universities. Recently, Harvard University offered an essentially free education to students whose families earned less than $40,000 a year, but the number of new freshmen from these backgrounds rose by less than 1 percent. Administrators thought "the pool of low-income students with top credentials was just limited," Vendantam reports, but Stanford University economist Caroline Hoxby found that isn't true. There is a vast number of high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds; they just aren't going to Ivy League schools.
Why? Hoxby discovered that 70 percent of academically gifted low-income students who apply for Ivy League schools come from 15 large metropolitan areas that often have highly regarded public schools. Students from those areas have almost 100 percent odds that they will attend an Ivy League school. Similar high achievers from rural areas, however, were significantly less likely to go to top colleges.
"The reasons are straightforward," Vedantam reports: Urban schools have top teachers, terrific guidance counselors, vast resources and highly selective colleges send scouts to them to recruit top students. There's also a higher density of high-achieving students at urban schools, giving those students a peer group of support, many of whom will also attend top schools. Rural high-achieving students are less likely to have any of those resources, especially a similar peer group because the density of academically gifted youth is much lower and a less frequent occurrence where they live."
"Without mentors and academically talented peers, Hoxby says many of these students fail to apply to schools that can offer them a premium education free of charge," Vedantam reports. "And because the students are widely dispersed across the 42,000 high schools in the country, college recruiters have a hard time finding them." (Read more)