Inside Delaware's Groundbreaking Plan To Get Poor Kids To Top Schools

With the stench of the most recent college rankings still wafting in the wind, secondary education continues to be a topic for discussion. Much of that discussion has been about college athletes and whether or not they should be paid, but also the cost to attend an Ivy League school.

The cost of attending an Ivy League school is particularly interesting considering a move that Delaware is making to get more poor students to choose the top schools. Delaware’s move to increase the number of poor students who apply and attend the best colleges in the land could serve as a model for states in the future, but in reality does little to increase the probability of success for these students.

In order to get more poor students to apply to the top colleges, Delaware plans to send a packet of information to prospective college students that will also include application fee waivers to ensure that the cost of applying is not a hindrance to considering these schools. Included in this packet will also be a letter from the top 10 elite colleges indicating the student’s candidacy for admission as well as letters from state officials congratulating them on their academic success. While this plan is good for stroking young egos and on some level providing encouragement about taking the next step, it fails to address whether this increases the student’s chance of being accepted and then being successful at an elite college.

This move was prompted by a report that highlighted the lack of high achieving low income students actually attending elite colleges. In fact, the number of students attending the most selective schools shows a staggering disparity with only 34% of high achieving students from the bottom fourth income distribution attending one of these schools but 78% of students from the highest income quartile. Another way to look at the lack of economic diversity in these elite schools is the percent of students receiving Pell Grants which are designed for low income students. Princeton, which is number one in the U.S. News rankings, only has 12% of their undergraduates receiving a Pell Grant and even in my own backyard, Duke University — which ranks seventh on the list — only has 14% of students receiving these grants.


(Source: Brookings)

Some elite schools like Wellesley College have introduced calculators to help identify the true cost of attending which may be lower than the stated cost to show the cost may not be as high as expected. However, even their officials have admitted that many students still remain confused about the cost and choose not to apply. It is information like this that makes the story of fellow PolicyMic Pundit Ashley Persuad very important when it comes to understanding the cost of an elite secondary education. The move by Delaware may reduce the initial cost barrier for applying to an elite school, but does little to minimize what occurs post acceptance.

While Delaware should be lauded for their efforts to get more low income students to attend elite schools, their efforts only provide short term relief from the high costs of an elite education. Once accepted, these students are faced with the tough choice of taking on large amounts of student debt to obtain this elite education or take the more affordable route which includes community colleges and local public universities.

So while Delaware’s move to increase the number of poor students who apply and attend the best colleges in the land could serve as a model for states in the future, the reality is that it does little to increase the probability of success for these students.