Cost-effective ways to expand college access

Expanding college opportunity is an “economic imperative” argues the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project. If America is to continue to be the land of opportunity, we need to find cost-effective ways to get more high-achieving, low-income students into good colleges.

“A college degree can be a ticket out of poverty,” concludes Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education. “Few investments yield as high a return as a college degree, according to the policy memo. “New low-cost interventions can encourage more low-income students to attend, remain enrolled in, and increase economic diversity at even top colleges.”

Increasing financial aid is an expensive way to raise low-income students’ college enrollment.

Providing high-achieving, low-income students with personalized information about college options would cost only $6 per student but greatly increase the numbers going to selective colleges with high graduation rates, concludes Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project by Caroline M. Hoxby of Stanford University and Sarah Turner of the University of Virginia.

Simplifying financial aid applications and assisting low-income applicants also is cost effective. It increases college enrollment by 8 percentage points, and costs less than $100 per student or about $1,000 per each additional enrollee.

By contrast, increasing Stafford loans, which offer lower rates to lower-income borrowers, costs about $20,000 to send one additional student to college.


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[...] low-income, high-achieving students about college options and financial aid is a very cost-effective way to encourage more low-income students to attend top colleges, where they’re more likely to earn a degree, make valuable connections and move up the social [...]

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