NY Times: "For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall"

The NY Times had a front-page story about 3 girls from Galveston Texas. One went to community college, one to Texas State, one to Emory.

Joanne Jacobs's view here.

The Galveston friends had help getting on the college track when they were in high school. But they weren’t prepared to advocate for themselves in college — especially the Emory student. She never went to the financial aid office to find out why she was getting a raw deal. She didn’t meet with academic advisors or tutors when she was doing poorly. It’s not so much that she lacked “grit.” She lacked chutzpah.

We've seen that sometimes among Match grads.

Dai Ellis's view here.

But (Emory) pours $94 million into financial aid and then won’t get off its ass to take a no-excuses approach to getting low-income kids to graduation? The vice provost for financial aid comes off as if he can’t even conceive of someone not understanding the byzantine policies or feeling confident enough to fight for themselves. The dean for academic advising saying ‘we reached out to her and she didn’t respond.’ Really?! You didn’t just go find her? She’s, um, enrolled at your school.

That's the flip side of Joanne's point. Who steps up? Kid or college?

Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist, reacts here. He believes a change in incentives would lead universities to engage in more of the behavior that Dai seeks.

The Pell grants program should be made not smaller but smarter — so that it motivates colleges to help their students graduate. Pell payments to schools should be increased, and split between an up-front payment and a later conditional payment based upon a student’s college completion and employment success. If the maximum annual Pell grant is increased to, say, $7,000, the University of Phoenix could get $3,500 now, and $3,500 later, when the student has a degree and when Social Security records confirm that she has held a decent job for three months. After four years, the school will have $14,000 riding on the student’s employment.

We need schools to be passionate about their students’ long-run success. Stronger financial incentives should make schools more aggressive about ensuring that students don’t get lost in the system, and get summer internships. Incoming freshmen may not have the best information about what skills will lead to gainful employment. Schools with stronger incentives can nudge them toward majors more likely to lead to success. Students from poorer families are more likely to benefit from greater guidance and help from their colleges.

But does this put all the burden on the college, and not the student? No, explains Glaeser.

Schools will bear some risk, since the student bears the ultimate responsibility for subsequent employment, but schools are large enough to diversify away much of that risk, and the government can provide a little extra help when the entire job market goes sour. Schools will try to attract students who are likely to excel in life. But if schools compete harder for poorer students with good prospects, that is a good result.

Well said. Of course then he wins my heart here:

Regardless, some kind of experimentation is crucial if America is to remain a place of opportunity for struggling young students in Galveston and elsewhere.

Experimentation! Hmm, we don't know what works, so we should create hypotheses and test them under controlled conditions? Instead of our usual approach (mostly inertia, then occasionally trying several new things at the same time, making it hard to figure out if anything worked)?

Oh well. I'll give the last word to Joanne. She blogs that a new study argues college payoff is exaggerated.