We’re Doing a Lousy Job of Getting Poor Kids to College

Lauren Williams's picture

For low-income students in the United States, the college math is bleak: only one-third of kids from families at or below the poverty line attend college, and even fewer graduate. The Department of Education has committed to improving those numbers, but a new report casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of the government’s efforts.

The federal government has four major college prep programs for disadvantaged students: Upward Bound, Talent Search, Upward Bound Math-Science and Student Support Services, collectively known as TRIO. In a policy brief published this week in the journal The Future of Children, researchers from Princeton University and the Brookings Institution synthesized evaluations of each program and found them all “ineffective,” with no impact on getting low-income students to and through college.

One study cited in the report tracked a random group of 1,500 students assigned to participate Upward Bound and a randomly selected control group of 1,300 students over 13 years. When Mathematica Policy Research ended the study in 2004, they found Upward Bound had “no detectable effect” on whether students enrolled in college, the type of institution they applied to, or whether or not they applied for financial aid. “We should be able to detect some change if we look at the students and say, what would have happened had we not had the programs?” said Cecilia Elena Rouse, co-author of the policy brief and dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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