Limited accessibility to elite institutions poses obstacle to low-income applicants

April 10, 2013, 1:14 a.m.

Elite universities’ increasing selectivity and rising tuition prices aren’t the only issues facing today’s high school seniors. According to research conducted by Professor of Economics Caroline Hoxby, limited accessibility to those schools for poor, minority or first-generation students can pose an even larger obstacle.

According to Hoxby’s research, about 70 percent of low-income students at elite colleges come from 15 metropolitan areas with notably high-quality public schools. Beyond those areas, many poor and minority students are largely prevented from accessing elite universities.

In an email to The Daily, however, Hoxby emphasized that Stanford is notably more accessible than its peer institutions.

“Broadly speaking, Stanford is more racially [and] ethnically diverse than any of its competitors, in particular,” she wrote.

According to data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Stanford is more diverse in its undergraduate student body than several peer institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to Dean of Undergraduate Admission and Financial Aid Richard Shaw, Stanford is also prominent in its inclusion of first-generation college students.

“Stanford always takes in a graduating class where around 15 percent of the incoming place is composed of first-generation college students,” he said.

Shaw took issue with the thrust of an article in Time magazine highlighting Hoxby’s research — though he has yet to read the article itself — and pointed to Stanford’s admissions policies, which assess students’ performance relative to their opportunities.

“We acknowledge that students apply to Stanford with different opportunities and exposure. That is why we pay so much attention to the schools and environments applicants are coming from,” he said. “Admissions definitely does not disregard any applications without a thorough contextual review. We factor in school profiles, and the kinds of opportunities that students have had in our decision.”

Hoxby said that lower-income and minority students are not at an academic disadvantage when it comes to admissions.

“At the time of admissions, they tend to be admitted at the same or higher rates than non-underrepresented minorities and more affluent students who have the same SAT/ACT scores and high school grades”, she said.

She added that although lower-income and underrepresented minority students are still not as likely to attend elite institutions as students from other backgrounds, “elite universities are… trying extremely hard to make themselves accessible.”

“Stanford and its competitors all work very hard at recruiting students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Hoxby said. “They visit schools; they offer campus visits; they work with numerous college mentoring organizations; they support summer programs.”

Hoxby said that, ultimately, the best way to counter the issue of inaccessibility is to level the field at the high school level, though she noted the difficulty of that task.

“You are essentially asking what can be done about the mediocre level of achievement among many American students,” she said. “While there are many things that can be done to improve American education, none of them is a simple silver bullet.”

Nitish Kulkarni '16 is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology and breaking news, and runs online content sections. Email him at nitishk2 'at'

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