Giving Compass' Take:

• Research shows that colleges and universities can boost income mobility for low-income students if selective institutions equalized representation of low-income students with academic qualifications.  

• What are the first steps for institutions to take to promote mobility for low-income students? 

• Here are three ways to help low-income students get through college. 

This naturally raised the questions: Why are there so few low-income students at these schools, and what can be done about it?

Last month, we started to answer these questions in a paper that examines whether the difference in the types of colleges that children from low- versus high-income families attend is explained by differences in their qualifications. We also analyzed the extent to which changes in the college application and attendance process could reduce income segregation across colleges and increase intergenerational income mobility. We did so using data on students’ ACT and SAT scores as a proxy for their pre-college qualifications. Although test scores do not capture all aspects of students’ qualifications, they are strong predictors of future earnings, even for students from the same socioeconomic background attending the same college, and therefore serve as a simple summary measure of pre-college credentials.

We found that low- and middle-income students attend selective schools at lower rates than their peers from richer families, even when they have the same qualifications. Despite having the same test scores, high-income students are 34 percent more likely to attend selective colleges than low-income students.

The picture is slightly different among the most selective schools — the Ivy League, plus Chicago, Duke, MIT and Stanford — where middle-class students are most heavily underrepresented relative to other students with the same test scores. In contrast with recent research, we found that low-income students attend these Ivy-plus schools at lower rates than high-income students but at significantly higher rates than middle-class students.

Read the full article about boosting low-income mobility by John N. Friedman at The 74.