Recruitment Alone Not Enough to Get Kids to College

By Guest Columnist Mar 10, 2009

by Viany Orozco (This post originally appeared on the Demos blog) (photo by Elaine Faith) A recent report analyzing the racial and income diversity of the student body at Sonoma State University (SSU) in California found that SSU, "has recently achieved the status of having the whitest student population of any public university in the State of California," as well as one of the wealthiest freshmen class among all four-year public universities in California. The author cites the university’s recruitment strategy among the main reasons for this outcome. While SSU may be an outlier in the California State University system, the direction of its trends is average in many public university systems in the country, and recruitment strategies are only one piece of the puzzle explaining them. Students’ perceptions about their ability to finance their education play an indispensable role in their decision to attend college and the type of institution they will choose to attend, net of academic preparation. Yet early information about financial aid is virtually nonexistent to families with children. Therefore, national and state programs which would inform low income families about funds they are eligible for based on their income (information which could be gathered using tax return data), and which would commit those funds, would substantially alter students’ enrollment decisions made on the basis of misinformed perceptions about aid. If students find that most of the aid they are eligible to receive is primarily in the form of loans, however, then early information is unlikely to alter enrollment decisions. In addition, early information and commitment of aid will not have its side effect of encouraging students to work harder and achieve more in high school in order to gain admissions into college. In the absence of adequate funding many low-income students will either forsake a postsecondary education or determine to work excessive hours to finance their education, which will undermine their ability to graduate. In addition to recruitment strategies, then, policymakers concerned about these disconcerting trends on income and racial & ethnic diversity might want to focus their attention on programs implemented by Oklahoma and Indiana. In Indiana, seventh grade students eligible for the school-lunch program can join the 21st Century Scholars program. The state then agrees to pay these students’ tuition at any public institution in that state as long as they graduate with a 2.0 minimum GPA, and meet other non-academic requirements. The program in Oklahoma offers a similar early commitment of aid to student’s from families with incomes up to $50,000.