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Understanding the Higher Education Access Gap and How to Close It

Understanding the Higher Education Access Gap

It’s clear that there are different advantages in life afforded to people that have more money than to those who don’t. This crosses into educational opportunities, whether it be at the grade school level or in higher education. The Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal has highlighted the higher education access gap with vast resources and lengths some of the wealthy will go to in the college selection process.

Truth be told most families don’t bribe and alter test scores to get their kids into college. However, many families have an advantage whether it be through networking, legacy status, resources for private admissions coaches, test prep services and financing.  Most higher ed institutions are revenue driven, and rely on tuition to operate. Often, colleges will choose students who are able to pay tuition in full vs. those who need financial aid. It’s simply a matter of economics when running a highly capitalized business.

All of this begs the question how can students from middle class and low-income families compete?

Public vs Private Education Resources

While Operation Varsity Blues has called mass media attention to this issue, there has always been an enormous gap in terms of the resources available to the “haves” vs the “have nots”.

For instance, a private high school education typically includes a “college counselor” who’s main goal is to help students find, apply and gain acceptance to their top choice colleges. Colleges have strong ties to these private schools, and the counselors have personal relationships with the colleges to aid in the recruiting process.

This isn’t to say that public high school counselors don’t have similar relationships, but on average they spend 30% or less of their time on college counseling. The majority of their time is spent on a variety of other critical counseling needs outside of career or college advising. And to boot, pubic school counselors are severely understaffed. The national average student to counselor ratio is 482:1, close to double the 250:1 recommendation.

This reality of limited resources, and the way that many colleges recruit, has created an enormous gap for the average high schooler and family.

Leveling the College Search and Recruiting Field

There are many programs designed to help college bound students succeed, such as CTE Pathways, Apprenti and DECA. They are designed to expose students to more opportunities and are well intended, but the reality is that even the most prepared students still face great challenges in the college application process. Many families simply can afford extra coaching and prep courses – and have the financial backing to pay the tuition bill.

The education community needs look for new and innovative ways provide the tools and resources for understaffed public high schools to educate and offer tools to students to expose them to educational programs and careers available, help them research and connect with colleges that match their needs, and educate them on the financial options available to them to create pathways to success.

Technology Provides the Key

Just as technology in the classroom is helping teachers and students improve the learning experience and communicate, technology can improve the way high school counselors help students approach their education options. Here’s three key benefits that that both counselors and students can gain by applying technology to the college counseling process.

  1. Supplement the 1:1 Advising Process

    Today’s counselors don’t just have to worry about college applications, they are an integral part of a student’s education. They provide support for academic achievement, career options and social/emotional development. Providing the right technology and tools to manage and supplement the advising process would allow counselors to better handle large caseloads and ensure no one slips through the cracks. For example, they could more easily monitor progress against goals, provide checklists for college prep to dos, college search tools and financial resources and more to keep students on track.

  2. Expose Students to the College Search Process Earlier

    With the right technology, students can be exposed to a variety of opportunities earlier in their education and better prepare for what is required to achieve them. From the courses they take, the clubs they join inside and out of school, their summer break experiences, community involvement, and more. Students need to start thinking about the future earlier to make academic decisions in line with their future aspirations, manage their time and stay on track, is critical. Technology delivered via a mobile app can offer these tools, ensuring that no student is left behind.

  3. Provide Equal Access to College Search Tools

    Technology can do a lot of things but many of the student resources are offered via online platforms. Unfortunately, not all students have access to computers on a regular basis to research colleges and the opportunities available to them outside of school. However, most have access to smart phones: 81 percent of high school students have a smartphone, while only 64 percent own a laptop. Offering college counselling and prep resources via mobile apps ensures that more students have equal access to the tools to help them achieve their higher education goals.

  4. Modernize College Resources for Today’s Digital Natives

    Digital natives, iGen, Gen Tech, Gen Wii, Net Gen and Plurals – today’s college bound kids have grown up with iPads and iPhones. And they use their phones to research everything, including colleges. Only 6% or less of college-bound teens check email regularly – and some no longer use email at all. According to a recent study, 8 of 10 students accessed a college website from their phones and 1/3 of students used their phone as their primary research tool. Providing mobile based counseling tools helps ensure that students are actually using the tools you provide them with, instead of being buried in an unopened InBox.

Forging the Path Forward to Equal Education Access

The bottom line is high school counselors need the same type of innovation for the college advising process that teachers have at their disposal for other educational purposes.

College Interactive (Ci) offers a free high school college advising platform that empowers counselors to manage their students’ education path. An easy-to-use, web-accessible counselor dashboard tracks student goals and accomplishments. It also features a free student app for task management, college search, financial aid resources and more. The app is accessible to every student with a smartphone. It’s a unique solution that helps both counselors and students work better together to ensure their education goals are realized.

Learn how CiCompass is changing the way high school counselors prepare their students for careers and college to create equal access to education opportunities.