Many low-income students who qualify for Pell Grants are academically strong enough to qualify for selective colleges, though most opt to attend open-access schools, according to a study from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown.
The report was analyzed by Times Higher Education, which reported that low-income students at open-access universities have a 48% graduation rate, compared to 78% of low-income students enrolled at selective universities.
The authors of the report said its findings dispute the notion that selective universities would have to dramatically shift their admissions criteria in order to accept more disadvantaged students.
The findings indicate that even as the list of colleges and universities making the SAT and/or ACT optional continues to grow, students from low-income backgrounds qualify wholly on the merits of a particular school’s criteria. One potential issue to consider is why low-income students continue to enroll more commonly at open-access universities, even after they have qualified for Pell Grant status.
Some of this may have to do with external factors, like a desire to be close to family or a concern about onerous non-college related expenses that could an inevitable consequence of attending a selective university, but those elite colleges must make sure that the gap is not due to a lack of strenuous marketing on their part to qualified students from low-income backgrounds. In many instances, staff — particularly guidance counselors — in schools serving disadvantaged students can be overworked and overwhelmed, and the potential of a college education at an elite university could remain an unknown possibility. Colleges and universities must ensure they are doing all they can to combat this last roadblock for these students.