Aspiring college students whose families have annual incomes about 200% below the federal poverty line face a unique set of barriers to the pursuit of post-high-school education.  These barriers run the gamut from the cost of higher-education itself to high drop-out rates in urban schools. Social programs and non-profits, such as those championed by Patrick James Chagrin Falls, are pursuing programs to mitigate these barriers and improve the accessibility of college for these low-income students.

Challenges Faced

The drop-out rate of high schoolers in urban areas is sometimes greater than 40%. Not completing high school makes the pursuit of college a non-option for these teenagers. For those who do complete high school, greater than 30% of high-achieving low-income students don’t apply to college due to concerns about college costs. For those who do apply, many do so without any family support. Out of those low-income students who are accepted into college, less than 20% graduate, likely due to realities such as facing the need to work full time to afford college costs, lack of inclusion on campus or lack of academic preparedness for the rigors of the college curriculum.

Intervention Before College

Some positive steps are being taken to help reduce these barriers. Non-profits are driving the increase in alternative high schools for low-income students, such as those modeled off of the Christo Rey Jesuit High School. These schools promote a work-study model that makes the schools affordable and sustainable while helping students develop real corporate skills as well as ties to the business community. Also, many tests required for college admission offer testing waivers, and high school guidance counselors can help gather information and submit applications.

Intervention During College

Varying options exist for financial support for college tuition, such as federal and state financial aid and private scholarships and loans. Students should pursue financial aid and scholarship options prior to private loans. Though loans can make college a reality, the steep and increasing cost of a college education can lead to high amounts of college loans that effectively cripple a graduate’s ability to thrive long-term after college. Many college programs also offer social and academic support for low-income students that are structured to mitigate the social isolation that results from having to work off-campus and provide extra academic support to help students transition better into the more rigorous academic environment of college.

The sad reality is that the obstacles low-income students face with regard to pursuing post-high-school education are very extensive, and the current initiatives that exist to help mitigate them are not enough to level the playing field between low-income and higher-income students. Supporting non-profits that work to increase the accessibility of higher education for low-income students is a great first step as is increasing the number of corporations who participate in the work-study programs offered by schools such as those modeled off of the Christo Rey Jesuit High School. Each step in this direction helps these students pursue their dreams and increases the pool of talent to move our country forward.