The Problem

UniFi Scholars tackles:

A Problem for students

Our nation’s higher education system is failing our brightest low-income students. The problem, in the White House’s words, is that “low-income students often lack the guidance and support they need to prepare for college, apply to the best-fit schools, apply for financial aid, [and] enroll.”

While the Obama Administration has taken several meaningful steps toward making college more affordable and accessible for low-income students – simplifying the FAFSA process (revisions will take effect next application cycle); rolling out the College Scorecard, which can help students in their efforts to assess the cost-benefit of attending any given school; creating and expanding the Pay-As-You-Earn student loan repayment plan for borrowers; and pushing for free community college nationwide – these steps still don’t really get to the heart of the problem, which is that “lack of guidance and support.”

The low-income student to guidance counselor ratio in the U.S. is 1000 to 1, and it is manifest in the matriculation and persistence outcomes of these students. Just 8% of “high-achieving” low-income students exhibit application patterns consistent with those of their high-income counterparts.  Of low-income students that do enroll in college, one in two tends to “undermatch,” enrolling in a school less selective than his or her academic credentials would otherwise dictate.  Meanwhile, approximately 40% of those that enroll fall prey to the “summer melt”, failing to even make it to campus the following fall. Of the remaining 60% that do step foot on campus, four out of five ultimately drop out – often due to financial pressure.

And a Problem for the U.s.

Despite the catastrophic economic consequences of the financial crisis and widespread acknowledgement of income inequality, most Americans remain largely financially illiterate and mired in debt. The situation is magnified in the student population. Over half of students taking on student loans report having no plan for repayment. Meanwhile, total outstanding student loans debt has grown to $1.3 trillion, more than all outstanding credit card debt.