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Report: Low-Income Students Face Unfair Roadblocks to Nation's Top Schools

New research suggests low-income students face unfair barriers to access to the nations top colleges. (iStockphoto)
New research suggests low-income students face unfair barriers to access to the nations top colleges. (iStockphoto)
January 15, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - Low-income students make up just three percent of the student body at the country's most selective colleges. That's according to new research published this week by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The report, titled True Merit, also shows the nation's wealthiest students make up almost three-quarters of the population at about 100 of the schools which reject most applicants.

Brenda Zastoupil is director of financial aid for the North Dakota University System. She says while they do face obstacles, low-income students in the state have several options to help.

"We go out to the high schools and assist students, especially trying to reach out to the low-income, first-generation students in filling out college applications," she says. "And that's a national effort, of course."

Specifically, Zastoupil points to efforts by the Bank of North Dakota, which has a program dedicated to helping under-served students.

Harold Levy is executive director of the Cooke Foundation. He says his group found that the problem for low-income students is twofold.

"They don't apply because they get poor college advising," says Levy. "And for the students who do apply the actual admissions process is rigged against them."

Levy suggests that college admissions boards should implement a "poverty preference" for high-performing, low-income students to help level the playing field.

Levy points to admissions tests as one example of how these students face far more barriers in the application process than their more affluent peers.

"Kids in poverty are given a fee waiver to take the SAT once," he says. "Kids of middle class and wealth take it repeatedly and submit their best grades. How fair is that?"

This report comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering arguments to roll back race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND