Take two 18-year-olds with equally stellar academic abilities. One comes from the socioeconomic bottom and one from the top. That lower-income student is one-third as likely to enroll in a selective college.
Often, when the media report on this phenomenon, known as undermatching, the focus is on the motivations of the students. Maybe low-income students think these schools are out of their league. In many cases, they fail to apply in the first place.
But a new report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation takes a more pointed look at the other side of the table: the admissions policies of selective and elite colleges. (Note: The foundation is a supporter of NPR Ed.)
"Although neutral on its face," the report concludes, "the admissions process as it is implemented is actually skewed dramatically against the poor."
Among the examples cited in the report are:
But here's the factor that surprised me the most:
5. Athletic recruitment and scholarships.
Recruited athletes are as much as four times as likely to be admitted to selective colleges as similarly qualified peers. Athletics are popularly thought of as the ticket to college for low-income and minority students. But the authors of this paper tell a different story: "Many of these slots ... go to wealthy, suburban, white students."
They don't give hard numbers. But out of curiosity, I looked up the list of varsity sports teams at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and compared them with the athletics programs in the three biggest public school systems: Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
You'll find the same marquee sports in all six places: baseball, basketball, football, soccer, swimming, track and field. Even sports stereotyped as preppy, like lacrosse, tennis and golf, are available in at least some urban schools.
But kids growing up poor in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City have little or no access to several Ivy League sports: crew, sailing, diving, squash and hockey. At least not through the easiest route — their public schools. Chicago and LA Unified have no fencing, gymnastics, rugby or skiing either, and New York City has no water polo.
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