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College Board ‘Compact’ Targets Low-Income Students

November 20, 2007 3 min read

The College Board is seeking to mobilize its more than 5,200 members—including schools, colleges, and other educational organizations—in a national campaign to better help students from low-income families prepare for, get into, and succeed in college.

Among the ideas put forward for action are setting student-aid policies that narrow the gap in enrollment between students from low-income and affluent backgrounds, waiving college-application fees for low-income students, and mounting college-awareness programs.

The “CollegeKeys Compact” is outlined in a report issued by a task force of the board of trustees of the New York City-based nonprofit organization, which is best known for the SAT and the Advanced Placement programs. The October report, billed as “An Open Letter to the Leaders of American Education,” finds that nearly half of all college-qualified graduates from low- and moderate-income families do not enroll in four-year colleges because of financial barriers.

It also points to other barriers, such as poor preparation, low expectations for students, and a lack of reliable information about college possibilities and the value of attending college.

“Put simply, our country cannot prosper without fully developing all of its human resources,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, writes in the introduction. “It would be both morally wrong and competitively foolish to foreclose young people’s options for higher education, based even in part on income. And yet, that is where we find ourselves today.”

Broad Definition

The report offers a broad definition for the underserved students the campaign is targeting. Though it refers to them as students from “low-income backgrounds,” the report doesn’t just rely on economic indicators such as being eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

It also lists other identifiers, such as potential first-generation college attendees, as well as those enrolled in schools with low college-going rates, high dropout rates, or with large numbers of students from low-income backgrounds.

The report outlines steps the College Board will take in the campaign, and those its members are being asked to take. Schools and districts that sign onto the compact are expected to make high school courses more challenging; make college-preparatory curricula their default for all students; mount college-awareness programs; provide training for teachers, counselors, and administrators on admissions and financial-aid practices; and forge partnerships with higher education institutions to support recruitment fairs, campus visits, and fee waivers.

Precollegiate schools are also expected to closely monitor their progress toward the goals.

Colleges that agree to the compact should initiate early-outreach efforts to potential students and form new partnerships with schools, the report says.

They should expand efforts to waive application fees for all low-income students, when possible, and take into consideration more than grades and standardized-test scores in admissions decisions.

Those institutions should also make need-based financial awards a priority, at a minimum increasing need-based aid as fast as merit-based aid, the report says.

In addition, the report says, “every effort should be made to meet the need of low-income students without excessive reliance on loans or jobs.”

Colleges and universities also are being asked to communicate clear and accurate cost-of-attendance estimates, which will become the basis for financial-aid awards.

And they should intensify academic support for students by, for example, offering tutoring and developing “learning communities” that serve the needs of low-income students, the report says.

“Some people were doing a great deal in this area already, some were doing less,” said Steven E. Brooks, a former trustee of the College Board and the co-chair of the Task Force on College Access for Students from Low-Income Backgrounds, which spearheaded the report and the campaign.

“People are going to have to start where they are,” added Mr. Brooks, the executive director of the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, a state agency that, among other tasks, administers financial-aid programs.

Patricia Z. Smith, the director of guidance services for the 200,000-student Hillsborough County, Fla., school district, based in Tampa, and a member of the College Board’s board of trustees, said that “if all the members of the College Board get on top of this, [the initiative] has the potential to make a real difference.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2007 edition of Education Week

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