Lack of Outreach is Dooming College Income Based Diversity Initiatives

New Orleans   I told you so.  I hate to say this, but just for the record, we’ll get this out of the way.  A couple of years ago when Harvard, followed by a small group of other high profile private colleges, announced an income blind admission policy and offered a free education to students coming from families making first $40,000 per year and then later beefed up to $60,000 per year, I applauded this class-based affirmative action program.  Heck, I volunteered community organizations to provide the outreach to make it work!  Years later, I’m still waiting for the phone to ring or to hear a ping in the email in-box.  Nada!

Were Harvard and the rest of the gang able to meet the mark?

Once again, tragically, the answer is also no, which is where the “I told you so” comes into play.

Clarence Page, a columnist writing from the Tribune news service, has now reported that “…officials at Harvard and other colleges with similar offers lament there simply is not a large enough pool of high achieving low-income students and there’s not much colleges can do to change that.”  Talk about figuring out a slick rationalization for abject failure!  They couldn’t get into Harvard with that line now could they?

Page rightly cites a study from Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Harvard’s Christopher Avery say differently.  They looked at 236 high education institutions that were “most competitive” according to Barron’s magazine and found there was an abundance of  such students who were simply not applying for these programs.  Why?  Because they were clueless about their existence!  Page quotes an interview with Hoxby and NPR tellingly, “The students whom (colleges) see are the students who apply, and if a student doesn’t apply to any selective college or university, it’s impossible for admissions staff to see that they are out there.”

Talk about a vicious, self-defeating circle.  What happened to admissions offices understanding that their job was about recruitment?  Is that only something that the football and athletic department really worries about?  I can remember an organizer who worked on our HOTROC campaign who we recruited from the recruitment department of the local public University of New Orleans.  Somehow UNO can have someone who did nothing but recruit lower income and minority students, but Harvard, Stanford, and the like can’t figure it out?  Poppycock!   Page nails this as well, quoting Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation saying, “They don’t seem to have the same appetite to go out and recruit low-income students of all races.”

I’ve said it before so I’ll say it again.  If they were serious they would enlist community organizations working in low income neighborhoods across the country to funnel candidates and assist in creating applications and recruiting from schools in their communities.  They would pay an incentive or bounty for success so that the community organizations could actually staff the operation.  They would waive the application fee.  The cost of the recruitment would be trivial, and they would finally have a new problem:  how to make the best decisions out of the huge number of qualified lower income students knocking on their door!

Of course they would really have to have a serious commitment to helping bridge the widening class and equality gap in the United States, and that might be the harder gut check for Harvard and the Harvard wannabe outfits around the country, but regardless, stop saying that this can’t be done or there are not enough kids ready and able to make the grade.

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