- Within the group of 2009 9th graders that enrolled in an institution by February 2016, 90% of the students in the highest socioeconomic status (SES) quintile enrolled in some form of postsecondary education, while only 56% of those in the lowest SES quintile enrolled, according to newly released data from the National Center for Education Statistics' High School Longitudinal Study of 2009.
- Even when it comes to academic performance, the data demonstrate students in the lowest SES quintile with higher NCES study assessment scores enrolled in college at a rate 18 percentage points lower than their peers in the highest SES group with similar scores — a reality that suggests wealthier students are more likely to have access to college even if their less well-off peers perform just as well.
- Further analysis from the Center for American Progress shows that even if students from the lowest SES quintile do make it to college, they are less likely to enroll in a four-year college or bachelor's degree program. These factors even break down within race, as higher SES black and Latinx students — even though they are well off — still are less likely to attend selective colleges than their white peers.
This new NCES data shows that challenges for students coming from lower socioeconomic groups begin before they even get to college, and if administrators are to build out pipeline programs across the K-12 level, it's essential to consider not only race-based access, but also socioeconomic-related access.
Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education research at the Center for American Progress and author of the report explaining this data, told Education Dive, such analysis is important to consider because "it gives us a stronger sense of where we are missing things on higher education access that isn't just completion."
"What you really see is the higher education system still extends lots of opportunities for richer students with worse outcomes, while a lower SES student with the same so-so academics is much less likely to go to college," Miller said. "A truly equitable system would not set it up so that the best way to go to college to be well off."
A number of colleges have reached out to K-12 school districts to help students complete high school and enroll in college, such as the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute's partnership with Chicago Public Schools. While these programs can make a difference in getting more underserved students to enroll, many still "can't reach everyone who needs their help," said Miller, who added that there needs to be a broader lens on K-12 access to the college pipeline where socioeconomic status and race are both being considered. For higher education leaders, this might require a mindset shift on K-12 access strategies so that more consideration is given to the socioeconomic profile of the population around the institution.
"A lower SES student is less likely to go to college often because they don't have the money," he said. "There are many factors to consider — it could well be that the better off students attend high schools with more robust guidance counselors and opportunities that a lower income student might not get."