Caroline Hoxby Discovers a Large Pool of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students Who Do Not Apply to Selective Colleges and Universities

JBHE data shows that despite the introduction of generous financial aid programs for low-income students, the percentage of low-income students in the student bodies of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities has declined in recent years. New research shows that there are large numbers of low-income students who are not applying to these schools.

Caroline M. Hoxby, Scott and Donya Bommer Professor in Economics at Stanford University, presented an important paper recently at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association. Using data from The College Board, Professor Hoxby found a huge group of high-achieving, low-income students who did not apply to any selective college or university.

Hoxby and coauthor Christopher N. Avery, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, obtained data on all students who took the SAT test over the past five years. They found 21,000 students who came from families with incomes below $28,000 who had grade point averages of at least B+ and scored at least 1200 on the combined reading and mathematical sections of the SAT college entrance examination.

Using data from The College Board as to where these students sent their test scores, Hoxby and Avery found that 60 percent of these high-achieving, low-income students did not apply to a selective college or university.

The data showed that most of the low-income students who did not apply to selective colleges were from small towns and rural areas that traditionally have not sent large numbers of students to the nation’s most selective colleges. Professor Hoxby told JBHE that she had no data on how many students from this low-income group were black.

The College Board regularly sells lists of high-performing students to selective college and universities. But Professor Hoxby notes that up to now there has been no way to cross-reference those students who are both high-scoring and who come from low-income families. Professor Hoxby told JBHE that these high-scoring, low-income students “are not getting any targeted recruiting or messages meant to appeal to them in particular.” But she said both The College Board, which administers the SAT test, and the American College Testing Program, which gives the ACT college entrance examination, are working to give colleges this capability in the near future.