Counseling Program Improved Needy Students' College Options, Study Finds

Low-income students who were coached and tutored by a nonprofit group during their last two years of high school were more likely to enroll in four-year colleges and to end up in more-selective institutions, according to the results of a study.  [Click to read the original article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.]

The study focused on College Possible, a group based in St. Paul that uses AmeriCorps mentors, most of them recent college graduates, to prepare students for college.  The study drew on a trial involving 238 students in eight high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, 134 of whom were randomly selected for admission to the after-school program.

College Possible mentors assist students with SAT and ACT preparation, advise them on college admissions and financial aid, and help them with the transition to college.  Interventions such as sending students text messages about steps needed to prepare for college or providing them with customized college information have been found to affect their choice of whether and where to enroll.

College Possible's founder, Jim McCorkell, said that finding is important because low-income students are more likely to "undermatch," or to end up at colleges that don't challenge them."  While 73 percent of upper-income American teenagers go on to earn a college degree, only 8 percent of low-income students do, the report says.  After participating in the program, students set their goals higher, enrolling in four-year rather than two-year colleges and shifting from less-selective to more-selective institutions, the study found. For instance, among students in the control group, 34 percent enrolled in four-year colleges and 30 percent in two-year colleges. For those who received the extra support, 45 percent enrolled in four-year colleges and 19 percent in two-year institutions.