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Opportunities for Low–Income Students at Top Colleges and Universities: Policy Initiatives and the Distribution of Students

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  • Pallais, Amanda
  • Turner, Sarah

Abstract

Whether the nation's most selective and resource–intensive colleges and universities are successful in serving as "engines of opportunity" rather than "bastions of privilege" depends on the extent to which they increase the educational attainment of students from the most economically disadvantaged backgrounds (Bowen, Kurzweil, and Tobin, 2005). Less than 11 percent of first–year students matriculating at 20 highly selective institutions were from the bottom income quartile of the income distribution, leading to significant concerns from higher education leaders and policy makers about the role of higher education in reducing intergenerational inequality, particularly in an era of high returns to education. Responding to what Lawrence Summers described as the "manifest inadequacy of higher education's current contribution to equality of opportunity in America" Harvard University and other public and private universities have introduced new initiatives designed to encourage the enrollment of students from low– and moderate–income families. One question addressed in this paper is whether the population of low–income students with high observed academic achievement is sufficiently large that aggressive institutional policies will be an effective tool in increasing the representation of low–income students at the most highly ranked colleges and universities. Using data on test–taking outcomes, we also examine where students currently send scores (as a proxy for application) and then consider the extent to which differences in family income affect students' choice sets. While the problem of the underrepresentation of low–income students affects both public and private universities, the effect of outreach and financial aid policies on outcomes is likely to differ appreciably across institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Pallais, Amanda & Turner, Sarah, 2006. "Opportunities for Low–Income Students at Top Colleges and Universities: Policy Initiatives and the Distribution of Students," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 59(2), pages 357-386, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ntj:journl:v:59:y:2006:i:2:p:357-86
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Lisa J. Dettling & Sarena Goodman & Jonathan Smith, 2018. "Every Little Bit Counts: The Impact of High-Speed Internet on the Transition to College," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(2), pages 260-273, May.
    2. Raj Chetty & John N. Friedman & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner & Danny Yagan, 2017. "Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility," Working Papers 2017-059, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    3. Amanda Pallais, 2009. "Taking a Chance on College: Is the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship Program a Winner?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 44(1).
    4. Smith, Jonathan & Pender, Matea & Howell, Jessica, 2013. "The full extent of student-college academic undermatch," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(C), pages 247-261.
    5. Amanda Pallais, 2015. "Small Differences That Matter: Mistakes in Applying to College," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(2), pages 493-520.
    6. Caroline Hoxby & Sarah Turner, "undated". "Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students," Discussion Papers 12-014, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    7. Michael F. Lovenheim & C. Lockwood Reynolds, 2013. "The Effect of Housing Wealth on College Choice: Evidence from the Housing Boom," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(1), pages 1-35.
    8. Joshua Hyman, 2017. "ACT for All: The Effect of Mandatory College Entrance Exams on Postsecondary Attainment and Choice," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 12(3), pages 281-311, Summer.
    9. Sarena Goodman, 2013. "Learning from the test: raising selective college enrollment by providing information," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2013-69, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), revised 2013.

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