UI professor tackles barriers to higher education for low-income and first-generation students

Iowa Now – Research

Despite policies created to help low-income and first-generation students attend college, many never move past the application process. One reason for this, according to a University of Iowa researcher, is that admission officials often lack information that puts a student’s academic achievement in proper context.For example, a high school student who graduates with a strong GPA, a mediocre SAT score, and a couple of Advanced Placement classes, might be passed over by a selective admission officer. But if the admission officer has access to details that give a more holistic picture, including the percentage of free and reduced-price meals served at the applicant’s high school and number of AP classes offered, the outcome often is different.

In fact, research shows that when admission officers have access to these details, they’re 26–28 percent more likely to admit low-income students.

Nicholas Bowman

“Bias in college admissions could be greatly reduced if admissions officers had easy access to the situational factors that play into an applicant’s high school achievements,” says Nicholas A. Bowman, director of the UI College of Education’s Center for Research on Undergraduate Education (CRUE). “Too often this information does not exist or, if it does, it takes too much time for an admissions officer to find.”

Bowman conducted the admission research with Michael N. Bastedo, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. The study was published in the March issue of the journal Educational Researcher, and it has already resulted in some frank discussions among college admission officers about the challenges they face in finding the most deserving students.

As part of the study, Bowman and his co-author asked 311 admission officers at 174 selective higher education institutions to review three applications from fictional white male students planning to major in engineering. One student was from a lower-income …

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