If you think children from low-income homes don’t aspire to attend college, think again. They do, but they often lack the academic background and mentors to keep them on track.
Those are key findings in an eye-opening new report on the condition of college and career readiness from the college-prep testing company ACT and the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships. In fact, students from low-income families (with incomes of less than $36,000 a year) are more passionate about attending college than their counterparts from middle- and upper-class families, the report found, but they still fall short of succeeding in college at alarmingly higher rates.
The reason, the study concludes, is not a lack of motivation or even money, but a lack of key community and high school resources, such as mentors, tutors and access to challenging classes that are available to children from wealthier households. Without these key supports, the report notes, students from low-income homes are significantly less likely to find the path to college and are more likely to struggle if they get there.
For example, of the students from low-income families who took the ACT, about 96 percent said they wanted to continue their education, compared with 87 percent of all tested students. However, just 59 percent of students from low-income households immediately enroll in a community college or a four-year school after completing high school, compared with 71 percent of all students.
For those low-income students who made it to college, 70 percent had taken a recommended core curriculum in high school — four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies — compared with 84 percent of students from high-income households (making more than $100,000 a year). This problem also shows up in ACT test scores. Only 20 percent of students from low-income families scored college-ready on three of four benchmarks (English, math, reading and science), compared with 62 percent of students from high-income families.
High schools clearly must do a better job of helping low-income students to get on — and stay on — a college track. College readiness is no longer an option in a world where most jobs require at least a two-year degree. When a child has the will to push harder, the worst thing a school can do is fail to offer the opportunity.