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Education and Academic Support

College Readiness and Retention

Access to post-secondary education has a lifelong impact. For example, students who attend top-tier colleges earn substantially more than those who attend less selective colleges. Yet at high schools serving predominately low-income populations, students have limited resources to help them navigate complex application processes and matriculate at the college or university best suited to their qualifications. Tens of thousands of high-achieving, low-income students do not apply to an appropriately matched college or university and attend nonselective two- or four-year colleges where graduation rates are distressingly low and debt loads are high. Many more do not attend college at all.

Melissa Roderick and her colleagues at the Consortium on Chicago School Research examined this phenomenon of “under-matching” and confirmed in “Crossing the Finish Line,” a study by researchers Bowen, Chingos and McPherson, that students are more likely to graduate college when they attend the most academically demanding institution that will admit them. In 2013, a study by Hoxby and Turner gained popular attention for demonstrating that it is possible to increase the rate at which very high-achieving, low-income students enroll in the most selective colleges and universities by providing them with tailored information about opportunities. In 2014, the College Board announced a plan to act on this research by sending information packets and application vouchers to college-ready students.

These important findings about college access and success informed the foundation’s 2016 grantmaking to programs in this area.