Research unequivocally shows that the deck is stacked against low-income and minority kids when it comes to access to higher education. Students from wealthy families are more than eight times more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24 than students from poor families. And yet some kids are beating the odds, so researchers are looking into factors that make a difference for these kids. Here are four research-backed practices that help students beat the odds to get into — and graduate from — college.
Putting money aside for college (any amount makes a difference)
Research shows that, controlling for other factors — including family income and the students’ academic achievement, kids who have college savings accounts are four times more likely to go to college.
It’s the “any amount” part that’s so surprising. A 2013 study found that kids from low- and middle-income families who had college savings accounts with between $1 and $499 by the time they reached college age were more than three times more likely to enroll in college than those with no savings account. What’s more, they’re also more than four and half times more likely to graduate.
The takeaway? Regularly set aside an amount of money, no matter how small, and make sure your child knows it’s for their college education.
Taking advanced math classes in high school
Taking advanced math classes in high school has a greater impact on whether students will graduate from college than any other factor — including parent income and education level. Taking an advanced math class boosts college completion rates from 36 percent to 59 percent among low-income students who go directly to college after high school.
A 2015 study by the nonprofit E3 Alliance found that Central Texas high school students who took Algebra II were more likely to get into college, and their chances of graduating from college more than doubled if they took pre-calculus — and tripled if they took AP math.
The takeaway? Know whether or not your child’s high school offers these classes, and check in with their counselor about whether they’re on track to enroll in advanced math courses — even if they aren’t required for high school graduation.
Having teachers who look like them
When students have teachers of the same race as them, they report putting forth more effort in school, being more interested in their schoolwork, and having higher college aspirations. The biggest benefits occur when the teacher is the same gender and race as the student — a significant finding considering that only 2 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. are black men.
A study of more than 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina found that having even one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced the probability that low-income black boys would drop out of high school by 39 percent. Both male and female students from low-income families were more likely to aspire to attend a four-year college and take a college entrance exam if they had at least one black teacher between third and fifth grades.
The takeaway? The teacher diversity gap is contributing to racial and gender achievement gaps, making it all the more important that your child have at least one teacher who looks like him.
Getting face time with a high school counselor
When high school students meet one-on-one with a high school counselor to talk about college admission or financial aid, it doubles the chance they’ll attend a four-year college, according to a 2016 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. (It also makes them almost eight times more likely to apply for financial aid.)
The study shows that whether or not schools have counselors who are able to devote time specifically to college planning makes a big difference in whether kids seek out a one-on-one meeting. When the schools host college fairs or informational meetings about financial aid, kids are also more likely to seek out a meeting. Parent expectations were a factor, too: among students whose parents expect them to go to college, 84 percent met with a counselor.
The takeaway? Find out if your child’s high school has a counselor dedicated to college admissions and encourage your child to meet with them starting in ninth or tenth grade.