Friday, September 01, 2006

Yes, there are tradeoffs 

The Chronicle runs a story on the Education Trust's latest report on how practices in financial aid are limiting enrollment of low-income and minority student.

It scolds colleges and universities who use financial aid to "purchase" talented high schoolers. As a result, they say, students who need aid -- likely to be less talented and pari passu low income and minority students, get less. But there are incentives to getting more talented students, from ability to hire better faculty to alumni donations. There are therefore tradeoffs between targeting aid to poor students and boosting academic prestige. This should come as no surprise, and frankly the report causes me mostly to yawn.

Where it doesn't is in calling for greater attention to graduation rates for minority students.
Nationally, only 40 percent of full-time, first-time African American freshmen and 47 percent of Latino freshmen graduate from the college where they initially enrolled within six years. For White students, the six-year graduation rate is 59 percent. Longitudinal studies show that another 7-8 percent of African-American and Latino students graduate from different institutions, but the racial gaps remain large.
We would know more about those movements of students -- and I think it's likely that students change institutions more when they are less well prepared for college -- if we had good accountability programs like those being fought by ACE that I discussed last night. Richard Vedder writes powerfully about the performance-access tradeoff.
The plain fact is that many low income, disadvantaged students are poorly qualified for colleges. If we let these students have easy access to relatively expensive four year institutions, we squander a lot of resources and get the current 50 percent or so drop out rates. If we insist on high admission standards, however, we deny access to many low income students, and restrict access disproportionately to some minority groups, such as African-Americans and Hispanics.