UW Dream Project

February 20, 2013

Low Income, High Potential

A few weeks ago, an article was published in The Atlantic claiming that many of the country’s “top-performing” students come from the bottom half or bottom quartile of income brackets. These students have a high potential to succeed in an intellectual environment, but without the academic support structure of their richer peers, they rarely apply to more selective schools, even though the education would open doors to higher-paying careers and the investment would pay for itself.

Why don’t they apply? The Atlantic claims it is a crisis not of ambition or access, but of advertising. Many students in low incomes may hear the stories of rising unemployment of college graduates and are put off by their first glance at a $40,000/year tuition estimate, and don’t hear the quieter echo of federal and community aid that will be enough to pay for a qualified student in need to attend a highly selective school. Understanding that attending their dream school “just isn’t possible,” our country’s low-income, high-achieving students settle for something more immediately financially reasonable, staying home to attend community college, or work to support their families.

The article mentions four typical ways of reaching out to high school students (mailing lists, counselors, college access programs, and high school visits from admissions counselors) but notes that it is not financially reasonable for college admission staff to effectively reach out to every high school in the country that “may have a handful of smart, poor students.” Other ideas are proposed, including mobilizing alumni, tapping into social media and digital advertising, and encouraging national media to paint a less terrifying picture of student loan debt.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were a means for motivated, informed students attending selective schools to visit and work closely with these students, to give them accurate information and to push them to apply to selective schools and walk them through the process of funding themselves?

The Dream Project mentors the students that our universities and high school counselors do not have the infrastructure to reach, and encourages those students to look past the barriers they have always seen and seek the quality education they have always been capable of. This is the work that will increase social mobility, will raise national productivity, will increase taxable income, and if you want to be a part of this movement, you can come to one of our classes, talk with our mentors or our mentees, or come to our upcoming annual Dare2Dream fundraiser on March 6th.

Luke Allpress
Dream Project Mentor