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Delaware Pushes to Get More Low-Income Students Enrolled in Higher Education

June 12, 2014
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Delaware Pushes to Get More Low-Income Students Enrolled in Higher Education
Students attend a college fair. The state of Delaware is in a major push right not to enroll more low income students in college. Berkeley Unified School District/Flickr
A few measures are helping more students from poor families aim high.

This fall, a new crop of college freshmen will unpack their belongings, hang up posters in their dorms rooms, and meet other bright young minds as they embark on a four-year journey of higher education.

There are, however, many other kids in the country who won’t get this opportunity, even though they have equivalent class ranks, scored just as well on the SAT, and got the same grades.

So what’s the difference between these kids and their collegiate counterparts? Unfortunately, these high-achievers have one major disadvantage: They come from low-income families.

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In fact, a large majority of high-achieving, low-income students don’t apply to selective colleges or universities — even when there are scholarships and financial aid for the taking.

When jobs reports consistently show that people with degrees have much higher employment rates and much bigger paychecks than people who do not, it’s imperative to get more of our nation’s youth to not just enroll in, but also to complete college.

One state, however, is showing remarkable progress with its simple, yet effective, measures to get these college-ready kids to enroll.

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As the New York Times reports, Delaware’s five-year-old Getting to Zero campaign has shown incredible results: Of the 1,800 college-ready high-school seniors the state has targeted, 98 percent are reportedly on track to enroll in at least one college. How?

Here are some of their approaches (in no particular order):

1. Many kids don’t apply to top colleges because applications are expensive, so Delaware completely waives them. The state’s Department of Education identifies all the high school seniors with an SAT score of at least 1,500 (out of 2,400) and specifically picks out the ones who are low-income. These students are then mailed application fee waivers to eight colleges.

2. Applications and FAFSA forms can be confusing or intimidating, so kids get some hand-holding. The state sends high-school guidance counselors and state officials to follow up with the aforementioned low-income/high-achieving students and their families to walk them through the applications via phone calls and meetings.

3. Offering the SAT and ACT during school. By simply by offering the exams during school hours, more students are taking it (and most Delaware students do). As the Times points out, you’d be surprised how many students don’t apply to college because they can’t be bothered to take the exam.

4. Encouraging students to apply to college during school. In November, Delaware high school seniors can use class time to fill out applications. Guidance counselors are not only on hand to help the students out, they also keep track of how many students have applied and to which school.

5. Celebrating college acceptance. College-bound students are publicly acknowledged for committing to higher education, thus creating an awareness among younger students who might not have considered going to college in the first place.

Star high schooler Sydney Nye told the Times that she’s only ever considered local colleges because applications were too expensive, especially coming from a working class family. But thanks to Getting to Zero’s initiatives, she’s now headed to Stanford — her dream school — on scholarship.

As Sydney said to the newspaper, “It worked out way better than I could have possibly anticipated.”

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