Closing the College Access Gap Study

Closing the College Access Gap Study

Support underrepresented students on the path to postsecondary education

This report profiles strategies progressive institutions are deploying to support low-income and minority students on the path to a postsecondary institution that is most likely to support their success.

Disparities in postsecondary degree attainment have grown or remained unchanged over recent years, as underrepresented students disproportionately enroll in institutions that are unlikely to support them to graduation.

The good news: A sizeable difference in high school students’ educational trajectory can be made even at this late stage in their education.

Based on interviews with more than 100 K–12 leaders representing school districts and organizations nationwide, this study explores 14 practices in depth to improve college access for low-income and minority students. Download the full study or explore each section below.

Create a Culture of High Expectations


Black teachers were 40% more likely than white teachers to predict the same black student would finish high school
Black teachers were 40% more likely than white teachers to predict the same black student would finish high school

Low-income and minority students often face lower expectations of college attendance from themselves and others. While difficult to overcome the weight of these entrenched attitudes, it is critical for districts to counter these expectations if they hope to address inequities in college access. District-wide policies and processes must reinforce college-going expectations for underrepresented students.

Build Student Confidence Through Advanced Course Work

Many low-income and other at-risk students continue to be heavily underrepresented in college-level classes (such as AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment). Overcoming apprehension about increasing access to college-level courses as well as skepticism over whether underrepresented students are really up for the challenge can both be major barriers to advancing equity goals.

Districts should increase those students’ access to advanced coursework in order to boost both their academic credentials and their confidence in being successful in postsecondary education.

Ensure College Choice Focuses on Likelihood of Success

As the selectivity of a college or university decreases, the outcome gap between high- and low-income students widens.

Often the first in their family to attend college, underrepresented students are likely to lack information about college options. Despite the critical necessity for at-risk students to make informed choices, schools largely leave students to develop a list of institutions on their own and then work with them to refine and narrow those options.

As a result, students often have no way to discern whether any given school will best support their success. Both technology based college matching tools and college advising processes should focus students and families on institutions that will support their postsecondary success.

Remove Barriers to Application and Matriculation

Underrepresented students often face a greater number of barriers to college and have less support to overcome them. As a result, even academically strong underrepresented students who have been admitted to college fail to matriculate in the fall after high school graduation. Through organized events, targeted counseling processes, and behavioral nudges, districts can better support low-income and minority students in their progress toward successful college enrollment.

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