The situation is starkly different for students from low-income families. Due to economic factors, many attend schools with fewer resources, where fewer opportunities are offered to them, and less may be expected of them. Those who do manage to excel academically are still often confounded by the college entrance process – from taking the SAT or ACT, to understanding how to get financial aid, to simply being able to visit colleges to understand what they have to offer. Many live in neighborhoods with few adults who attended college, and without direct guidance, many of these talented students end up tracked for low-skill, low-wage employment for the rest of their lives.
The impact on our nation is staggering. Three decades ago America was ranked No. 1 worldwide in the proportion of citizens with college degrees. Today we rank 12th, and the college-going and college-graduation gaps between students from middle and upper income households and their lower income peers have widened every year since 1980. In 10 years, 20 million jobs will go unfilled because there aren’t enough workers qualified to do them.
Helping talented students from low-income backgrounds access college requires multi-faceted support. Our program, College for Every Student, has forged a partnership between 200 K-12 schools and 210 colleges in 24 states to help these students realize a different future than the one they might have otherwise found. The partnership has engaged 20,000 students from economically challenged rural and urban communities in an effort to boost college readiness, college going, and college graduation. Most students participating in the program do not have parents who attended college.