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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

I want to go to Harvard!

Timing is an interesting thing.

Last week, we visited with a group of middle schoolers in central Little Rock, all of whom had specific ideas about college. As one eighth-grade girl told us emphatically, "I want to go to Harvard."
These were all students in a Little Rock charter school that caters to underserved students, providing them not only with a college-prep education, but also with help in shaping and defining their post-high school goals.

So the just-released national study about the lack of top-performing, low-income student who enroll in elite colleges caught our eye. The study found that only a third of top-performing students in the lower fourth of income distribution attend one of the 238 most selective colleges. Meanwhile, 78 percent of their counterparts in the top income quartile are enrolled in the more prestigious schools.

Reasons for the disparity? Some say lower income students may not be aware of the financial aid available to them. They may never have met anyone who's attended a top school. They may not have many college-attending role models at all. Because of all those things, they may feel more comfortable staying closer to home.

That resonates with something we heard Dr. Glen Fenter of Mid-South Community College say years ago about low-income students in his part the state -- college is a foreign place for many of them. Not only are they often the first in their families to look at higher education, many times they've never stepped foot on a college campus.

As this study suggests, helping students from lower-income situations feel at ease with college class schedules, campus lifestyles and such seems to be as important as preparing them for the academic rigor of higher ed.

Schools, colleges and communities can and should partner to introduce young people to college experiences.  By doing so, they could be opening up lots of unimagined doors for lots of students.

In fact, we know one we bet will be on Harvard Square in about five years.

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