Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Going to College Can be Less Expensive than You Think

Don Siegel

As we complete another season in Project Coach, it is important to take stock of some of the critical lessons that we learned during this year. One involves how well PC is doing with regard to motivating and supporting our youth coaches' quests to continue their educations after graduating from high school. This year, out of eleven seniors, ten have applied to and been accepted at colleges. During our discussions with these coaches, we learned a great deal about how they came to apply to and select various schools, a great deal more about how difficult the process was for them, and about how relatively uninformed they were about paying for school. Some also seemed very willing to incur large debts upon college graduation, without really understanding what this would mean once they graduated and began to support themselves. Consequently, one of our goals for next year is to help juniors and seniors be more strategic and systematic about their thinking and planning for college.

As part of this initiative I started to do some research about how PC can help with this process, and came across a wonderful, free, web-based tool called As I experimented with this site, I found it to be very easy to use, and much more than simply a general listing of scholarships for which a student might apply, but also an educational tool that can help a student to organize their thoughts about college, and the information they need to collate for admission and financial aid. To provide you with the flavor of this instrument I will describe my experience with at each of the steps I took in learning more about colleges that I might be interested in attending, how to apply, their costs, and potential sources of financial aid.

a.            I started by clicking on Scholarship Search and then entered that I was a current student, a high school junior in the Class of 2016, 17 years old, a resident of the U.S., and lived in Zip Code 01107. I also entered my email address, a password, and that I wanted to be kept informed about scholarships via e-mail.
b.            A student information screen then opened, and I completed the additional information requested; first and last names, gender, GPA = 3.0, citizen = yes, marital status = single; address, ethnicity = Hispanic, etc.
c.             The next screen requests information about your ACT/SAT/Class Rank. I entered 400 for each of the SATs, and a class rank of 33 at Springfield Central High School.
d.            The next request was to identify some of the colleges to which I intended to apply. I listed the following schools: Westfield State, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Springfield College, Elms College, Bay Path College, Western New England College, Smith College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College. I was not sure what I would be majoring in, but clicked on the following possibilities: Biology, Business, Education, Health Education & Promotion, Hotel & Restaurant Management, and Physical Education, Sport & Physical Activity.
e.            I was then presented with a screen that requested information about my artistic/athletic interests. I clicked on dance and then indicated that I also played baseball, basketball, and volleyball.
f.             The next screen asked about whether I was interested in scholarships based on financial need, to which I clicked - yes. For household income, I scrolled down and entered $30,000 to $39,999, that I was conducting the scholarship search for myself, and that I did not have an affiliation with the military. The form also asked about whether I, or my parent(s) had an affiliation with various occupations or interest groups. I did not click on any of these, but learned that different occupation/interest groups support various types of scholarships.
g.            The next screen requested information about whether I was a member of any honors or student organizations. I did not click on any of these. Various scholarship opportunities are also available here.
h.            I then was asked a number of questions about the types of schools in which I was interested, whether I needed housing, whether the school should be affiliated with a religion, and whether it should have an ROTC program. I entered that I was interested in two-year and four-year schools, that school size did not matter, that housing should be $3000 or less, that distance from home should be between 0-50 miles, and religious affiliation = No, and ROTC = No.
i.              After clicking, I got the results on all the colleges that I had entered regarding their tuitions. They ranged from $3,574 for Holyoke Community College to $43,114 for Smith College. By clicking on the hyperlink to each school, information on the costs of books and supplies, room and board, and other expenses were also listed. For example, the tuition at Westfield State was $8,694, and when I added books and supplies ($962), other expenses ($1,845), and room and board ($9,795), the total came to $21,296. Information on anticipated financial aid was also presented. Here I learned that the average student received about $8527, and also took a loan of $6,565. Consequently, students were expected to contribute the difference between costs and various forms of financial aid (including loans) by contributing an additional $6,204. These were just “ball park” figures, and depending upon need and the ability to find additional scholarship aid, the out of pocket costs could be less. For comparison, to go to and live nearby Holyoke Community College, costs would be $16,594 (tuition = $3,574, room and board $7,200, other expenses $4,220); average aid would be approximately $5,474. Anticipated loans would come to $3,932, leaving the gap between costs and financial aid/loans at $7,188, a bit more than at Westfield State. Of course, costs at both schools could be significantly reduced by about half, if you lived at home and did not have to pay room and board, bringing costs after scholarships and aid down to $2,974 at Westfield State, and $3,920 at Holyoke Community College.
j.              Given all of this information, the next step was to identify other scholarships that can help close the cost gaps so that loans are minimized or eliminated, and out of pocket costs reduced. The program identified a large array of scholarships for which I might qualify. Some examples that I found were:
a.     Triple Impact Competitor Scholarships from The Positive Coaching Alliance $1,000 - $2,000. This scholarship entails showing the organization how involvement in sports helps to make an applicant better, one’s teammates better, and making the game better. Current high school students with a GPA of 2.5 are eligible to apply. 
b.     COCA-COLA SCHOLARS PROGRAM SCHOLARSHIP - $20,000 for high schools students having a gpa of 3.0 or higher after their junior year, and who are recognized for their capacity to lead and serve, and their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities.
c.      Massachusetts Cash Grants program - The Cash Grant Program is designed to assist needy students in meeting institutionally held charges such as mandatory fees and non-state-supported tuition. It is a complementary program to the Need-Based Tuition Waiver Program. The Cash Grant is designed as an offset of the Tuition Waiver Program for the purpose of providing financial support to those individuals who would be denied the opportunity for higher education. 
d.     Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts – up to $10,000 The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts administers 75 scholarship and loan funds available to students from Western Massachusetts. Scholarship and loan funds help students of the Pioneer Valley achieve their maximum potential by making higher education available without regard to financial circumstance. 
e.      Dell Scholars Program – up to $20,000. The Dell Scholars Program enables more under-served students with financial need to achieve their greatest potential through higher education. The Dell Scholars Program is offered to those high school students participating in an approved AVID program (College Readiness Program). The funding for each Dell Scholar is substantial - $20,000. Students must have a 2.4 GPA and plan to attend an accredited institution of higher education.  
These were just a few of the scholarship that were on the page generated by There were many more opportunities listed, which depended on a student’s particular background, their academic record, and the area they wished to pursue in college.
The point of all of this is that selecting a college and figuring out how to finance going to it should not be done haphazardly, but by doing extensive research and developing a plan to get what one wants from going to a particular school, while doing so at minimal cost. By playing around with in middle school or early in one’s high school career, one can plot a course to achieve such a goal. It will entail doing well academically, but also affiliating with an array of clubs, teams, and interest groups that can widen the scope of scholarships for which one one might subsequently qualify.  My sense is that being part of Project Coach will also be a wonderful addition to one’s resumé, as it aligns well with many scholarships that require evidence of leadership, community service, and working with underserved populations.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Five Miles and 20 Years of Extended Life

Don Siegel

Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

While many have commented on or written about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not much has been written about life, in that most people understand that our government exists, at least in theory, to protect it’s citizen’s rights, which, in turn, is a surrogate for protecting their lives. Clearly, we have an extensive and expensive aggregate of military forces, police forces, and undercover agencies that do just that. But a new report[1] from the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), makes one wonder whether the declaration’s guarantee of life, is really being protected. If everyone has the unalienable right to life, then how do we explain longevity differences in neighborhoods in New York City of 9 years, in Atlanta of 13 years, and in Richmond Virginia of 20 years? While we know that “all men” are really not created equal, longevity differences of these magnitudes suggest systemic factors that clash with one’s inalienable right to life. That life expectancy is 63 years in Gilpin, a neighborhood in Richmond, near the state capital of Virginia, and 83 years in Westover Hills, another neighborhood, 5 miles away, should make us all wonder about what is going on.

I am not really asserting that the government is directly responsible for these longevity disparities, but our socio-economic system, and the environments that emerge from them are clearly involved with creating the conditions that make living in a community more or less healthy. The VCU project ties longevity to health, and health to income, asserting that “…the relationship between income and health is a gradient: they are connected step-wise at every level of the economic ladder. Middle-class Americans are healthier than those living in or near poverty, but they are less healthy than the upper class. Even wealthy Americans are less healthy than those Americans with higher incomes.”[2] The following chart, pretty much, shows compelling data of this health gradient for 12 different diseases or illnesses.[3] Clearly, one needn’t be a statistician to conclude that family wealth is highly correlated to health.

Not surprisingly, major risk factors also follow this pattern, with data from 2011 showing that , 

… smoking was reported by one out of four (27.3 percent) adults from families who earn less than $35,000 a year, three times the rate of those from families who earn $100,000 a year or more (9.2 percent). Obesity rates were also higher (31.9 and 21.2 percent, respectively), in part because of lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of caloric consumption. In 2011, the proportion of adults who reported getting recommended levels of aerobic exercise was 36.1 percent for those living in poverty compared with 60.1 percent for those with incomes at least four times higher than the [Federal Poverty Level]. 

The longevity differentials previously cited are simply the natural end point for lives lived very differently. Yet, one cannot help but ask whether in an advanced country, such as the United States, income should be so closely tied to health and longevity?

Who Cares about This?

Although the connections between income, health, and longevity are quite compelling, I often wonder whether we, as an aggregate, really care that two babies born into two families at different ends of the income continuum are destined to have very different lives with regard to their health prospects, their projected longevity, and most probably, the quality of their days. This is in stark contrast to the American Dream Ideology, which asserts that where one starts out in life has little to do with where one winds up, in that talent, hard work, and perseverance are supposed to be the factors that determine our destinies. Unfortunately, these health and longevity data do not support such a Pollyanna view of growing up in America today. Where one starts out in life is clearly connected to how long one might expect to live, and the quality of one’s life.

Clearly, there are research groups scattered about that study this stuff, and many individuals and organizations that are doing good work in attempting to reduce the relationships among family wealth, health, and general well-being, but we have really not taken on this issue in a systemic way, to fulfill our country’s promise of “life” in its promise of : “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Arguably, most people may ascribe to the notion that “…life is not fair”, and be resigned to endemic inequities.  Others, may attribute differential life circumstances to differential capabilities, and people’s unwillingness to pursue longer term personal development at the expense of shorter term satisfaction. While others may simply be indifferent to the plight of folks very different from themselves, who live “on the other side of the tracks.” But, these data are too compelling to ignore. A twenty-years longevity difference between groups of people living five miles apart in a country having great wealth is really difficult to explain in a society that is based on the notion that every individual should have an equal opportunity to thrive.  

What can be done?

Yet, what could be done, if we were really committed to tackling the longevity inequity problem? The answer is clearly not simple, but lies in “connecting dots”, that have been identified as representing separate issues by different interest groups.

First, we need to do a much better job in getting poorer kids educated. While education may be perceived as the route out of poverty, as we see from health data, income is also highly correlated to longevity and well-being. This is a complex relationship, as the connection between education and health may, at first, be perceived to be mediated by health education, which is a factor. But the more powerful connection probably comes from the interaction between income and lifestyle. This is so because the more education one gets, the higher the income that people are projected to have, and the higher one’s income, the more likely they are to be able to live in safe neighborhoods, to gain access to higher quality food, to live in homes not contaminated by lead or asbestos, to have jobs in safe work environments, to be less likely to smoke, to get more exercise, to incur less stress, to obtain higher quality health insurance, and to more easily access doctors, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, psychologists, and other health providers.  As a profile, it becomes apparent that healthy living is very much a function of the environment in which one lives. In turn, this is largely determined by one’s income, which is connected to one’s occupation, which is tied to one’s education. Consequently, as I argued in my last post, we must do more to provide high quality education in general, but especially to children at the bottom of the income continuum.

Supporting the education of Project Coach participants entails working with them on a day to day basis to make certain that they are engaged in their classes, do homework assignments thoroughly, study effectively for exams, and master coursework. It also means helping students plot future trajectories for post secondary school education. This might entail everything from counseling students on selecting the best middle and high schools to attend, to helping them create a “future self” that includes higher education. Taking college trips, providing opportunities to prepare for the SATs/ACTs, assisting with college applications and financial aid forms, and any other activities that make higher education a natural progression would be in order. It may also entail helping youth explore and prepare for post secondary school employment in vocations not requiring a college degree.

The second approach that Project Coach takes to helping youth fulfill their potential entails community development. Recent research shows that future income, especially for children coming from families in the lower income quartile, is very much a function of where they grow up. In a nutshell this research found that:

For children growing up in families at the 25th percentile of the income distribution, each year of childhood exposure to a one standard deviation (SD) better county increases income in adulthood by 0.5%. Hence, growing up in a one SD better county from birth increases a child’s income by approximately 10%[4].

In dollars and cents terms this would mean that a low income boy growing-up in Hampden County, where Project Coach operates, would make $680 less per year than if he grew up in an “average community” in the study. On the other hand, if such a child grew-up in Tolland County (a county adjacent to Hamden County), he would make $4,850 more in a year than growing up in the “Average County”, or $5,530 more per year than remaining in Hampden County! While the authors do not specifically demonstrate the causal links in this bump in income, they do speculate that it has to do with such things as: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households. With regard to health, a quick analysis shows, as might be expected, that in the cities identified at the beginning of this post which had wide discrepancies in longevity, one finds that for poor kids growing up in Atlanta their average adult income would be depressed by $2,850/year; in New York by $3,730/year (using the Bronx as a locale); or by $3,270/year in Richmond, Virginia. Consequently, the connection between, health, income, and community comes full-circle. Where one lives has an impact on education, income, and health.

Given that mass migrations of poor people to wealthier communities is probably not in the cards, an alternative strategy that Project Coach is pursuing is to help develop the community in which it exists in order for it to become more like those communities where upward mobility and healthy lifestyles are more likely to occur. We have already been part of One Spr1ngfield, which is engaged in antiviolence, clothing, and food security initiatives in the North End. As well, we provide educational and recreational programs during the after school hours and summer vacation period for children in grades 3-5. Project Coach also has an intensive, multi-year, youth development and jobs training program for 50-60 adolescents. Healthy communities also are cohesive communities in that they are made up of people who actually know and care about one another, and who support building and maintaining high quality living conditions. With our contingent of teenagers, we are currently exploring ways for how to diversify their involvement in sports, and deploy some of their vast talents and emerging leadership skills to maintain and expand such community development initiatives. Our emerging plans include engaging a broader array of community members in projects that encompass education, health, recreation, and the environment.

[2] Woolf, S. H et al. How are income and wealth linked to health and longevity?, Center on Society and Health,
[3] J. S., Schiller, J. W. Lucas, and J. A. Peregoy, “Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2011.” Vital and Health Statistics 10, no. 256 (2012): 1–207, tables 1, 4, 8, and 12.
[4] Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren. (2015) The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility: Childhood Exposure Effects and County-Level Estimates.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Is College Worth the Investment?

Don Siegel
In my previous post, I tried to make the point that kids from wealthy and poor communities were essentially playing in a different game when we looked at the ways in which they are supported as they grow up. Kids from wealthier homes typically have an advantage with regard to the schools they attend, the extracurricular activities in which they engage, the types of enrichment experiences in which they partake, the interpersonal connections they make, and in the general organization of their family and community lives. Many attribute such advantages to maintaining the inequality and lack of social mobility that has recently been in the news and talked about by economists, political pundits, and social activists.

  Given the observation that kids coming from wealthier communities tend to have wind at their back as they grow up, in contrast to kids growing up in distressed communities, the concept of equal opportunity to achieve one’s full potential is problematic. Equal opportunity has been a basic tenet of the American Dream ideology. Work hard, show initiative, be industrious, persevere, and stay out of trouble, and you will be able to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. But, how does such an ideology get reconciled with data showing that a child born into the top economic decile has a 29.6% chance of remaining in the top decile when they become an adult, while a child born into the poorest decile has a 1.3% chance of making it to the top decile. On the other hand the child from the poorest decile has a 31.5% chance of remaining in the lowest decile; the richest kids have only a 1.5% chance of ending there1. It probably is a bit Pollyanna to suggest that outcomes (where one winds up) should be equally distributed with regard to where one starts life, but equal opportunity does connote that where one starts out is not correlated to where one finishes. That is to say, if equal opportunity exists, then a kid starting out in the lowest decile should have as much chance of winding up in the highest decile, as a kid who starts there, and a kid who starts in the highest decile should not be guaranteed higher socioeconomic status as a birthright. How then can we make a dent into these rigid demographic patterns?

There are many ideas that have been kicked around over the years, but one that continues to rise to the surface is the notion that if more kids from the lower deciles could get to and complete college, their job prospects and associated incomes would rise substantially, which would, in turn, help them to penetrate into higher deciles.  In actuality, there is compelling support for this idea. A recent Brookings Institute Report2  found that a child born into a family in the lowest quintile has a 45 percent chance of remaining in that quintile as an adult and only a 5 percent chance of moving into the highest quintile. On the other hand, children born into the lowest quintile who earn a college degree have only a 16 percent chance of remaining in the lowest quintile and a 19 percent chance of breaking into the top quintile. In other words, a low-income individual without a college degree will very likely remain in the lower part of the earnings distribution, whereas a low-income individual with a college degree could just as easily land in any income quintile—including the highest.

How much is a college degree actually worth? While many have debated this issue on philosophical grounds, with some arguing that going to college is not just about making more money upon graduation, others have assessed it as a financial investment. The results of a recent PEW Research Center study of Millenials (25-32 year olds)3 found that a college degree was worth an additional $17,500 in yearly pay above being just a high school graduate ($45,500 vs. $28,000). Furthermore, the report found that the gap between having only a high school diploma and a college degree has been increasing since 1965 when it was $7,499, $9,690 in 1979, $14,245 in 1986, and $15,780 in 1995.  Given that one’s work life is about 40 years, this would amount to $700,000 more in lifetime earning! Overall, as one can see in the following figure tracking median annual earnings for 25-34 year olds between 1995 – 2012, income is highly dependent on educational attainment.

Clearly, those who argue that inequality can be decreased, upward mobility enhanced, and equal opportunities realized through education seem to have a very powerful argument. For a quick and snappy overview of these data see the Youtube Video -  Is America Dreaming? Understanding Social Mobility. 

Getting to and Through College is Not so Simple for Poor Kids

While the evidence connecting education to income and upward mobility is compelling, getting poor kids to earn a bachelor’s degree is not so simple. The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and The Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania have recently published a comprehensive report entitled Indicators of Higher Education Equity in The United States  that explains the demographics of higher education, who earns bachelor’s degrees, the reasons why underserved students drop out at a much higher rate than their more privileged peers, and possible policy initiatives that might be deployed to enhance graduation rates in lower income students. 

First, one might ask the question regarding who in the 18-24 year old cohort, when broken down by income quartile,4 actually goes on to enroll in college. As shown below, and as one might expect, rather significant differences exist in rates of college attendance when family income is used as a factor. The gap in 2012 was 36% between the highest and lowest quartiles. Consequently, an initial question becomes how we might go about decreasing such disparities. Kids will not graduate from college if they do not enroll!

Not only is the gap large between 18-24 year olds who go to college, but it is even larger for those who go to college and actually graduate. As seen below, bachelor’s degree attainment is also highly correlated to family income, with 99% of those in the upper quartile earning a degree and only 21% of those in the lowest quartile earning one. 

Attendance and graduation statistics provide compelling data for framing the inequality-equal opportunity-upward mobility problem that we are facing. Given that we are searching for strategies to decrease inequality in America, and that education has been identified as a critical factor in pursuing upward mobility, we see in stark terms that family income, something that 18-24 year olds have little or no control over, plays a critical part in educational attainment. From an equal opportunity perspective, this is not the way things are supposed to be, as equal opportunity connotes that educational opportunity, as interpreted here as going to college and earning a bachelor’s degree, should be unrelated to a family’s income. 

The report from which these data are taken examines in greater detail the connection between income, financial aid, college attendance, and earning a degree. Perhaps, one of the most provocative findings, as shown below, is that the cost of college has risen at a much faster rate than the amount Pell Grants 5 support; federally subsidized grants to low income students. As stated in the report:

Average tuition and fees at colleges and universities in the U.S. more than doubled in constant dollars since 1970, rising from $9,625 in 1970 to $20,234 in 2012-13. Relative to the average cost of attendance, the maximum Pell Grant peaked in 1975 when the maximum Pell grant covered two-thirds (67 percent) of average costs. The maximum Pell Grant covered only 27 percent of costs in 2012, the lowest percentage since 1970. 

Another way to understand how costly college attendance is to low-income students, after all grant aid is computed, is to compute the net price of attendance as a percent of average family income. As shown below, in 2012 the percent of college costs of family income for the upper income quartile was 15%, while for the lowest income quartile it was 84%! Clearly, lower quartile folks do not have the discretionary income to pay for the college costs that their kids might incur.

What to Make of All of This

After reviewing all of these data one is struck by how compelling the relationship is between education, income, and mobility, but also by the challenges that lower income youth face in pursuing an educational track that will produce a college degree. The issue then becomes how we can best go about increasing the chances of a kid from the lowest quartile to pursue an educational trajectory that realistically is targeted at earning a college degree, or its equivalent. While money is a critical factor in providing direct support for college expenses to low income students, it is also a factor prior to college in supporting the educational and extracurricular experiences that pave the way for them to enroll in the first place. As those of us who work with lower income kids see everyday, there is a great deal of swimming upstream that is required to overcome the obstacles such kids face in enrolling in college and earning a degree.  Nonetheless, some suggestions that policy and decision makers might consider that can increase the probability of low income kids successfully attaining a meaningful post secondary school degree include the following four ideas derived from various research studies:6,7 

  • Promote College Readiness: This is a rather simple phrase that, in actuality, entails a great deal of complexity. Getting kids off the blocks as early as preschool, and supporting their academic and social aspirations and development throughout elementary, middle and high school is essential. Focusing on only one particular period, may show short-term results, but will probably not produce the longer-term sustained results of getting a youth college ready. Developing basic academic skills in elementary school is critical, providing guidance in middle school on selecting a high school, taking a college preparatory course in high school, and getting in-depth and sustained guidance on the college selection and admissions process are all critical to college readiness. As well, an objective should be to make the transition from high school to college as seamless as possible, given that data shows that students having to deal with remediation are more likely to drop out. Various studies have also suggested that pre-college high school programs like Talent Search, GEAR Up, and Upward Bound provide students with the guidance and support that they need to increase their chances for success during the critical first year of college. Furthermore, students headed for college are advised to take more rigorous honors and AP courses in high school in order to acquire the academic content knowledge, skills, and habits that they will need to succeed in their postsecondary courses of study. As an aggregate, all of this entails starting kids early and supporting them throughout their pre-college days to acquire the array of assets necessary for college success. 
  • Affordability: Clearly, paying for college is a much greater burden to the families of students in the lowest quartile (i.e., 84% of average annual family income) than those in the highest quartile (i.e., 15% of average annual family income). On average, in 2012, unmet need for students in the lowest quartile was $8,221, which over four years, or more, would mean leaving school with a debt of at least $32,884. Plainly, we as a society have to do more to make college attendance financially viable for poor youth. Given that graduating from college is now equivalent to what graduating from high school once was with regard to educating and training citizens for contributing to our social and economic well-being, we should consider providing universal free education to youth able to benefit from such. This is not a new idea, as the City University of New York has had various permutations over the years of need-based assistance that has amounted to free tuition for those meeting specified income criteria. Similarly, the University of California provides free tuition for in-state residents who come from families making less than $80,000 a year. Some wealthier institutions such as Harvard and Stanford also provide free tuition and room and board to students coming from families having annual incomes less than $65,000. Today’s movement for supporting universal tuition-free community college is a good start, but we also should enhance the size of Pell Grants, and other sources of funding to make college attendance financially feasible for all low-income students who are academically ready for college. 
Another idea that comes from South Africa and the Netherlands is to incentivize student performance by converting loans to grants, depending on stated criteria such as program completion, or program completion within a fixed time period. There are lots of ideas and programs that address how low-income students can finance their post secondary school educations, but the reality is that financial packages at most institutions are not so generous, when considering the real costs to most students. Consequently, our most practical strategy today is doing a better job in advising students on where to apply to college in order get the best value for the tuition and fees that they will need to pay after all sources of financial aid have been exhausted. Unsophisticated students may be provided complicated financial packages by some schools that charge hefty tuitions and provide what appears to be large scholarship awards, but after computing bottom line costs, may actually be significantly higher than attending state schools that have more modest tuition costs even after adjusting for their smaller scholarship awards. The ultimate objective in selecting and paying for college should be to find a school to which one can be admitted, that is capable of providing a rigorous course of study that is aligned with a student’s interests, where support is provided to make success highly probable, and that minimizes debt upon graduation. 
  • Support and Counseling: Just as students aspiring to college need support and guidance during the years leading up to elementary school, middle school, and high school, they need effective student support services once they get to college. Summer bridge programs have been identified as effective in helping students’ transition from their high school years to their first year of college. Such programs can help ease students into taking college level courses, provide writing workshops, teach achievement skills, and provide information and assistance about financial aid. Another strategy to keep low-income youth on track is to provide them with what is labeled proactive or intrusive advising. This actually entails a form of coaching in which staff members check-in with students on a weekly basis to help them deal with problems they may be encountering, before problems turn into failures that become deterrents to their success. This may go beyond academic help and include any aspect of college life that a student finds challenging. The bottom line here is that institutions need to be sensitive to the unique needs of their students, and with the high percentage of low-income students who start college and subsequently drop-out, there needs to be more personalized direct support for them from the time they start until they graduate.  
  • Support Full-time Attendance: Research has shown that part-time attendance in college is a risk factor for dropping-out. As one might imagine, part-timers typically must balance such things as family and job responsibilities with being able to focus on their academic work. As might be expected, the latter often suffers. While it is easy to propose that low-income students study full-time, it is more difficult to figure out how to make this happen, given their need to generate income for their living and school expenses. Clearly, there are few options here other than to provide adequate aid to cover these costs. From a public policy perspective, federal and state funds could be used to reward institutions that admit and graduate a higher percentage of low-income students, which, in turn, would mean providing more on-going support to them for making such a goal a priority. Wealthier institutions should also re-energize their efforts to recruit and support students from low-income families. Despite alleged efforts to bring costs down, a low-income student facing an average post graduate debt today of $32,884 provides little incentive for them to pursue a college education. If higher education really wishes to decrease inequality and enhance social mobility, they need to strike a better balance between their ever expanding costs and their missions to serve all segments of our society.  
Project Coach and College 

    The highest priority for us at Project Coach is to help our youth succeed beyond the playing fields where they coach. Initially, we targeted high-school graduation as a program goal. So far, our kids have been graduating at much higher rates than their peers attending Springfield Schools. As we learn more about inequality, upward mobility, and the role that college plays in the lives of kids coming from poorer families, we will be refocusing our energy on providing more guidance and support to them about how college works, what they can do to better prepare themselves for it, and how to negotiate the complexities of selecting an institution, applying to it, and finding ways to finance their educations.

1 Bowles, S., Gintis, H., Groves, M.,  (2005), Unequal Chances., Princeton University Press, p. 7.
Greenstone, M.,  Looney, A., Patashnik, J., and Yu, M., (2013), Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education., Brookings Institution,
3 The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, Pew Research Center;
4 Bottom Quartile = less than $34,160, second quartile = $34,160-$63,600, third quartile = $63,600-$108,650, top quartile = $108,650 and above.
5 Pell Grants are provided by the federal government to low income students.
6 Cahalan, Margaret, (2015), Sixteen strategies for widening equity of participation in higher education in the United States: Reflections from International Comparisons, in Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States , The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education,, pps 43 – 54.
7 Royster, P., Jacob, G, and Craig, H. (2015), Timing is everything: Getting students back on track to college readiness in high school. The High School Journal, Volume 98, Number 3, Spring 2015, pp. 208-225