#NACACreads: Colleges Must Change to Better Serve Low-Income Students

In his book, The Privileged Poor, author Tony Jack shares a surprising statistic.

At highly selective colleges, one half of black students and one third of lower income Latino students are the alumni of boarding, day, and preparatory high schools.

Offering admission to such students is “easy” and “a safer bet” for universities, Jack noted Tuesday during a #NACACreads Twitter chat. After all, students who attend college prep high schools generally arrive on campus already having developed the skills and social capital needed to navigate the “hidden curriculum” of higher education.

But Jack challenged chat participants to diversify their recruitment strategies and invest in on-campus efforts that ensure all students have the knowledge and support needed to make the most of their college years.

“If you are going to diversify, it means going beyond demographic shifts,” Jack tweeted during the hour-long discussion. “There must be a cultural shift. What’s the use in increasing access if you are going to keep students in second-class positions at first-rate schools?”

Policy changes, like keeping the cafeteria open over spring break for those students unable to leave campus, are a step in the right direction. But truly embracing first-gen and low-income students requires adopting a new mindset within higher education, Jack said.

“Schools amplify differences by assuming that students know the secret codes to get ahead and are comfortable with a narrow set of behaviors,” he tweeted. “…I will say this until I am blue in the face: we always say when office hours are, but never say what they are.”

If college is new for you or your family, chances are you won’t know, Jack said. And not knowing means missing out on opportunities.

“Socially, we expect that all our students know the rules of the game, how to succeed in college,” Jack tweeted. “(But) only those who have been permitted to practice, let alone master the skills of navigating the hidden curriculum, are ready on Day One.”

See a full chat transcript and read more about Jack’s own journey as a former first-gen, low-income student.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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