This week a group of 30 selective American colleges and universities, together with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute, announced a collaborative effort to expand access for low-income students. This effort—dubbed the American Talent Initiative—is part of a suite of initiatives that are attempting to help academically qualified students from lower-income families get improved access to elite universities.
The problem has been a stubborn one to solve, and has persisted despite numerous, well-meaning efforts. This is because high school grades and standardized test scores, which factor heavily into selective university admissions, are closely correlated with affluence. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation noted in a report earlier this year that the 193 universities with the most competitive admissions have made only 1 percentage point of progress in enrolling Pell recipients in more than a decade: from 16 percent of first-time, full-time students in 2000 to 17 percent in at 2013. The foundation called for a “poverty preference” in selective university admissions. Continue reading