Preparing Disadvantaged Students for Selective Colleges

Workshop is call for educators to work together on college access, inclusion

IPR economist Kirabo Jackson shared how his research on cash incentives for exams
and grades could help get more minority students into selective colleges.

At an unprecedented workshop at Northwestern University, more than 30 higher education and K–12 leaders from across the nation discussed how they can work together to significantly increase the number of academically prepared students from underrepresented groups choosing to enroll in selective colleges—and how they can keep them there.

Citing that two out of three Chicago Public School students who gain admission to a selective school turn the opportunity down, Northwestern President and Professor Morton Schapiro, an IPR fellow, spoke of “a ‘disconnect’ between what universities sell in admissions and what they deliver.”

“Higher education can’t turn its back on K–12 and expect to enroll a diverse class that’s truly ready to be educated at our colleges and universities,” Schapiro said. Schapiro, along with Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, convened the two-day workshop.

It focused, among other topics, on America’s changing demographics, ways to boost academic achievement at the high school level, and the creation of a “culture of diversity” on college campuses.

The workshop also emphasized the importance of research in informing and evaluating efforts to prepare minority and low-income students for selective colleges. IPR Director and education economist David Figlio, for example, will evaluate a major restructuring of instruction at ETHS that was designed to increase rigorous education for all students.

“The best research indicates that, while difficult, it is possible to move the needle and promote a rigorous and inclusive educational environment for students of all backgrounds,” said Figlio, who moderated the workshop discussions. “I’m proud that Northwestern and ETHS are taking the lead in addressing this very important challenge.”