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New study finds more informed admissions officers help low-income students go to college

Apr 4, 2017

A new study released last month suggests that when college admissions officers have more background information about applicant high schools, students from low-income communities have a higher likelihood of acceptance. 

Learning more about district test scores, AP class offerings, and available support services from a high school can help an admissions officer identify high-achieving students in areas with limited resources or opportunities. 

Michael Bastedo is a University of Michigan professor who led and co-authored the study. He says added background to an application can provide another valuable metric to measure potential student success at a university. "When we're talking about a lower income student who might come from an underserved high school, having a sense of how they're doing among their peers could be stronger predictor of how well they're going to do in college."

"Instead of just looking at raw numbers, like what your raw standardized test score is or what your raw number of AP scores is, it's more like, 'are you maxing out the opportunities that are available to you?'"

The study sampled 311 admissions officers by providing them with varying degrees of background information on three fictional applicants who they were to review. The applicants also varied in socioeconomic status. Results suggested that more information led to a higher likelihood of acceptance with the lower income student. 

Bastedo hopes that these findings can lead to a universal, more informative high school database for admissions officers to use. "I think the hope should be that a national organization would provide really consistently high quality information about every high school in the country," he said, "You could compare the applicants academic characteristics to what was available to them in the high school."

He said that, to date, most efforts to get more low-income students in college were focused on changing their behavior. This is believed the first study that suggests admissions officers can play a part.