Chantelle George is the founder/principal consultant of CG Consulting, a Black, female-owned firm that supports entities focused on postsecondary equity. CG Consulting has partnered with 20+ organizations across ten states and 100,000+ students. Chantelle holds a B.S. degree from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree from the University of Houston. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Louisiana State University in Higher Education. Chantelle is the Board President of College Beyond, a non-profit that addresses the equity gap between students of color and affluent students. Chantelle is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, INC. and LSU Young Alumni Advisory Council and serves on the National Coca-Cola and Dell Scholars Programs selections committees.
In today’s society, access to higher education is often seen as a pathway to success and upward mobility. However, there remains a significant gap in college attainment for students of color, particularly those from underserved communities.
Compared to the racial/ethnic gaps in the percentage of 25- to 29-year-olds who completed at least high school in 2022, the gaps in postsecondary degree attainment were generally larger. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of those who attained any postsecondary degree (i.e., associate’s or higher) was at least 22 percentage points higher for those who were Asian (78 percent) than those of any other racial/ethnic group. In addition, the percentage was at least 20 percentage points higher for those who were White (56 percent) than for those who were Pacific Islander (36 percent), Black (36 percent), Hispanic (34 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (19 percent). The percentage who attained any postsecondary degree was more than 10 percentage points higher in 2022 for those who were two or more races (48 percent) than for those who were Black (36 percent) and Hispanic (34 percent) (NCES, 2023). This gap not only perpetuates existing inequities but also hinders these individuals’ potential for social and economic advancement. In this article, we will delve into the factors contributing to this gap and explore potential solutions to address this pressing issue. By understanding the root causes and implementing targeted interventions, we can work towards a more equitable and inclusive educational system that empowers all students to achieve their postsecondary goals.
To begin the conversation around attainment, we should start with the college decision-making process. The college decision process is a critical milestone in a student’s life, shaping their future opportunities and career prospects. However, this process is not equitable for all students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. This article aims to explore the equity challenges faced by low-income students compared to their high-income counterparts in the college decision process. We will examine the barriers related to access to college knowledge, college cost, the role of high school counselors, the family’s role, and pre-college programs. Additionally, we will provide solutions and recommendations to address these challenges, along with highlighting key exemplars in the field.
Access to College Knowledge
Students from low-income communities often lack access to crucial information and resources regarding college admissions. This knowledge gap can significantly hinder their ability to make informed decisions. Some key challenges include
- Limited exposure to college culture and resources: Low-income students may not have access to college fairs, campus visits, or college-preparatory programs, which are essential for understanding the college application process.
- Insufficient guidance and mentorship: Many low-income students lack guidance from knowledgeable mentors who can provide advice on college selection, application strategies, and financial aid opportunities.
To address these challenges, it is crucial to implement the following solutions:
Increase outreach efforts
Colleges and universities should actively reach out to underserved communities, providing information sessions, workshops, and resources to educate students and their families about the college decision process.
Expand community-based organization (CBOs) partnerships
Establish or partner with community-based organizations that focus on college access and success. Many of these programs have service models that include mentorship, peer support scholarships, and help navigating the college transition process.
The College Advising Corps is an exemplary organization that places recent college graduates as full-time advisors in underserved high schools. These advisors provide personalized guidance to low-income students, helping them navigate the college decision process successfully. Other exemplars include OneGoal, Upward Bound, Braven, AVID, College Beyond, and BottomLine.
The high cost of college education is a significant barrier for students from low-income communities. Financial constraints often limit their options and force them to make decisions based on affordability rather than fit or quality. Key challenges include:
- Tuition and fees: Low-income students may struggle to afford the high tuition and fees associated with college education, leading to limited choices and potential exclusion from prestigious institutions.
- Hidden costs: Additional expenses such as textbooks, housing, transportation, and meal plans can further burden low-income students, making college affordability a significant concern.
To address the cost barrier, the following solutions can be implemented
- Increase financial aid opportunities: Colleges and universities should expand need-based scholarships, grants, and work-study programs to make higher education more accessible for low-income students.
- Raise awareness about financial aid options: Schools, community organizations, and colleges should actively educate students and families about available financial aid resources, including federal and state grants, scholarships, and loan forgiveness programs.
The Posse Foundation is an exemplary organization that identifies talented, low-income students and provides them with full-tuition scholarships to partner colleges and universities. This initiative significantly reduces the financial burden for these students, enabling them to pursue higher education without excessive debt.
High School Counseling Practices
High school counselors play a crucial role in guiding students through the college decision process. However, students from low-income communities often face challenges related to counselor availability and resources.
Key challenges include:
- High student-to-counselor ratios: According to the American School Counselor Association (2019a), the average student-to-counselor ratio is 464:1. We know that many states are well about this average leaving many students with minimal advising throughout the year for postsecondary readiness. Many high schools have limited resources, resulting in high student-to-counselor ratios. This makes it difficult for counselors to provide individualized attention and support to low-income students.
- Lack of college knowledge and resources: Some counselors may have limited knowledge about college admissions, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities, which can hinder their ability to effectively guide these students. Also, college and career readiness training is minimal in most of the counselor graduate programs.
To address the challenges related to high school counselors, the following solutions can be implemented:
- Reduce student-to-counselor ratios:
Schools should allocate resources to hire additional counselors, ensuring that each student receives personalized guidance throughout the college decision process.
- Professional development for counselors:
Schools should provide ongoing professional development opportunities for counselors to enhance their knowledge and understanding of college admissions, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities.
Encourage counselors to join professional organizations such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) or the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
College Possible program trains and places recent college graduates as college coaches in high schools with limited resources. These coaches provide one-on-one support to students, helping them navigate the college decision process effectively.
The family’s role in the college decision process is crucial, but students from underserved communities often face unique challenges in this regard. Key challenges include:
- Lack of parental college experience:
Many students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are the first in their families to pursue higher education, resulting in limited guidance and support from parents who may be unfamiliar with the college application process.
- Financial constraints and responsibilities
Students from low-income communities may face pressure to contribute to family finances, making it challenging to prioritize college education.
To address the challenges related to the family’s role, the following solutions can be implemented:
- Parent education programs: Schools and community organizations should offer workshops and resources to educate parents about the college decision process, financial aid options, and the long-term benefits of higher education.
- Financial support programs: Scholarships and grants specifically targeted at low-income students can alleviate the financial burden on families, allowing students to focus on their education.
The college decision process should be equitable for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. By addressing the equity challenges related to access to college knowledge, cost, the role of high school counselors, the family’s role, and pre-college programs, we can create a more inclusive and fair system. Implementing solutions such as increasing outreach efforts, expanding financial aid opportunities, improving counselor support, educating parents, and expanding community-based organizations can help bridge the equity gap. Exemplars like OneGoal, College Advising Corps, the Posse Foundation, Bottom Line, College Possible, and Upward Bound program serve as inspiring examples of organizations and initiatives that are actively working towards addressing these equity challenges. By learning from these exemplars and implementing their successful strategies, we can make significant progress in creating a more equitable college decision process for students from low-income communities. It is important to recognize that addressing equity challenges in the college decision process requires a collaborative effort from various stakeholders, including educational institutions, policymakers, community organizations, and families. By working together, we can ensure that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background, have equal opportunities to pursue higher education and achieve their full potential.
- American School Counselor Association (2019b). ASCA school counselor professional standard and competencies.
- National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Educational Attainment of Young Adults. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/caa.