Elite Colleges Struggle To Recruit Smart, Low-Income Kids

Ann McClure's picture
Friday, January 11, 2013

Across the United States, college administrators are poring over student essays, recommendation letters and SAT scores as they select a freshman class for the fall.

If this is like most years, administrators at top schools such as Harvard and Stanford will try hard to find talented high school students from poor families in a push to increase the socioeconomic diversity on campus and to counter the growing concern that highly selective colleges cater mainly to students from privileged backgrounds.

Top schools often offer scholarships that not only include free tuition, but also free room and board for top students from poor families — meaning it can be less expensive for these students to attend Harvard than a state school or a community college, says Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Stanford who tracks these students.

Each year, however, colleges are confronted with a paradox: No matter how many incentives they provide, enrollment of highly talented, low-income students barely seems to budge.

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