What keeps poor kids out of college: short version

My last post was pretty long, and I hate long posts as much as the next person. So I decided to make a shorter version. The basic summary is this: before we ever get to the question of cost, there are at least two filters that push poor kids out of college (or out of the best colleges). The first is the achievement gap and the second is the knowledge gap.

First, the effects of growing up poor cause poor kids to do worse in school, rendering them less qualified for college than their rich peers. In aggregate, that means poor kids go to college less and go to worse colleges. This is the achievement gap.

Second, even poor kids that are high-achieving attend worse schools than their richer cohorts because they have less knowledge about college in general. They do not know what schools their scores qualify them for, and probably do not understand costs and other related factors. As a result, 82 percent of high-achieving poor kids apply only to schools well below the ones they are qualified for. And this is true even when the higher-ranked schools they fail to apply for would cost them less. This is the knowledge gap.

There are other factors involved as well. For instance, The Century Foundation found that preferential admission policies for legacies, athletes, and people of color result in a smaller percentage of poor kids being admitted than if there were no preferential admission policies at all (admission policies just based on grades and scores). So it seems even admission policies are playing a role.

I bring all this up to push against the idea that cost is the leading reason why so few poor kids go to college (or to a good college). It seems like the overwhelming majority of poor kids get screened out of college (or out of good colleges) well before cost could even come into play. And besides, not going to college for cost reasons is almost always a terrible decision. Even if the cost of attendance is high — and it’s not as high as people imagine, especially for poor kids — the opportunity costs of not attending are generally much higher. So even in those minority of cases where cost triggers in as a cause, it is arguably the knowledge gap that is at play.