Monday, March 25, 2013

Initial Thoughts on Low Income, High Achieving Students

I'm sure most of you are aware of a recent paper on the behavior of high achieving low income students that have been circulating along the blogs. Since it's the most recent post I read on the subject, I'll link to The Conversable Economist. (paper here).

My first impression of this, without reading the paper in full, is that the barrier might have more to do with social factors than the behavior of colleges. Something that I have seen mentioned in a lot of poverty literature is how low income individuals often have norms that emphasize contributing to their family and community, an abhorrence of debt, and a sense of immediacy regarding income.

Not having read the paper yet these issues may be addressed, but I have some questions regarding whether there is much of anything that we can do to address this particular problem without addressing poverty more generally. I just don't see that many poor people, whatever their future prospects, being willing to leave their social groups behind, take on large debt for living expenses (even if this is covered I doubt many low income folks know this, I certainly have no idea myself and what scholarship offers I have experience with were all for tuition only), and be willing to put off earning a decent income for another four years when they feel obligations to other family members. Without reducing the interdependency of the poor on their families for support, which is the situation for most low income families, I don't really see there being much room for improvement in these numbers.*

*Incidentally, this interdependency is one reason I am very skeptical of conservative arguments in favor of more non-government social support. From both what I've read and what I've seen lower income folks are already far more involved in mutual support than higher income folks. What is different is this is often less cash based, things like cashing in on your friend or family member's store discount in violation of store policy being a common minor example, and it tends to have a greater equality between members, it's not just parents supporting children but also children supporting siblings, and sometimes even parents. If we want more social mobility we need to decrease the need to rely on these networks, trying to increase them will simply lock more people into bad neighborhoods, bad social circles, and bad schools. Help from a neutral third party will increase options and make individuals feel less guilt for leaving the networks they were born into, ties that tend to drag everyone done rather than lift anyone up.

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