Equity & Diversity

With Financial Backing, Low-Income Students See College and the World

By Samantha Stainburn — July 21, 2014 2 min read
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Among the advantages that students from affluent families have is the ability to pay for special programs and experiences that better prepare them for college. How to make things more equitable? One strategy is to simply pay for lower-income students to have the same experiences.

That’s what the Noble Charter School Network, which operates 14 charter schools in Chicago, does. The organization raises money from individual donors, companies, and foundations each year to send rising juniors to summer programs on college campuses that offer high schoolers a taste of college life or instruction in particular subjects. This year, 750 Noble students will attend programs, lasting from two to eight weeks, at more than 50 different colleges through the Noble network’s “Summer of a Lifetime” program.

The main purpose of Summer of a Lifetime is to show the charter system’s students, most of whom come from low-income families, what going away to college is all about, Noble Network Founder Michael Milkie, told me.

“This is a way for them, and their parents, to gain familiarity with colleges so they might be motivated to do better in high school and apply and attend college.”

The program targets sophomores because they have two years left—enough time to turn themselves into college-bound students even if they weren’t seriously considering college before. It’s also designed to widen the universe of colleges that students know about—they swap stories with their friends—and inspire them to aim for the full four-year, live-in-the-dorms experience, rather than just local commuter schools.

Studies show that students who live on campus are more likely to be successful,” Milkie said. “This program motivates them to say, ‘Yes, I do want to go away, I do want to live on a college campus,’ because when they get two or three weeks on a campus, they realize the advantages and the fun of living on campus.”

Some 85 percent of students who participate in the program do go on to attend four-year-colleges, according to the Noble network. For many, their Summer of a Lifetime summer was the first time they were away from their families, flew in an airplane, or saw the ocean.

Another luxury item typically out of reach for lower-income students is the “gap year"—a year between high school and college spent traveling or volunteering. Advocates of the year off say students who take a break are more focused, independent, and confident when they start college.

Now some universities are offering financial aid to students who want take a gap year. Princeton University has offered financial aid to incoming freshman who decide to delay college for a gap year since 2009, according to an Associated Press report.

And Tufts University has announced that, starting in fall 2015, the college will cover the costs of low-income first-year students in a Tufts-organized year of service in the United States or abroad.

“Through this unique experience, young people will develop their abilities and passions in ways that will strengthen their studies and experiences at Tufts, as well as their personal and professional trajectories,” Tufts Provost David R. Harris said in a statement.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.