March 15, 2019

This week, national headlines exploded with news of celebrities and other wealthy families fraudulently circumventing the college admissions process.  While 33 members of the wealthy elite spent over $25 million on college admissions fraud, a mere $1700 almost kept one of our Higher Achievement alumni from returning to college for his spring semester.  This almost happened because he didn’t get enough hours in his on-campus job to pay the bill.  Luckily, his Higher Achievement mentor was able to help, and he is reenrolled.

Think about that.  While one wealthy student’s family paid $1.2 million to get into Yale, a hard-working low-income student almost missed the chance for a college degree due to a sum ($1700) that some wealthy families might spend on a spring break plane ticket.

This news once again highlights injustice and inequity in our country. The divides in our society across race and class continue to grow as evidenced by the EdBuild report on racial bias in public school funding (see blog from earlier this week) and countless reports on income inequality.  In 2015, the top 1% of US families made more than 25x what families in the bottom 99% did.

This growing income inequality exacerbates all divides in our country, including the achievement gaps for young people.  These achievement gaps in test scores (between rich and poor, white and non-white) are what Higher Achievement tries to eliminate – by closing opportunity gaps.  And yet, these gaps are not static.  They are growing every day – wealthy kids get private education, extra tutoring, SAT prep, big donor/legacy preference, and – most recently and egregiously – $25 million in fraudulent college admissions.  Meanwhile, low-income students might not be able to pay the $50 registration fee to take the SAT.  And, to add insult to injury, low-income students often must work twice as hard to even be a competitive applicant to a top school as they are often overcoming barriers of race, language, and college familiarity.

We fool ourselves if we think of college admissions as a meritocracy where all you need to do is work hard to prove yourself and get ahead. Yet, the common advice to low-income students is – stay focused, do your homework, and you will succeed.

At Higher Achievement, we work tirelessly to bridge these divides and to legally give our scholars a leg up.  We engage hundreds of volunteer mentors and $11 million from a variety of sources this year to support our middle school scholars.

How do we give scholars more than a fighting chance?

  • Invest ~$8000 and 600+ hours of extra learning in each scholar we support
  • Build social capital for our scholars by connecting them with mentors from all walks of life
  • Increase familiarity and comfort on college campuses, by taking our scholars on tours of colleges every year
  • Provide homework help, academic mentoring, and summer learning to increase grades and test scores, then preparing them for admission to strong high school programs so they can stay on track to college

As some wealthy families fraudulently tip the scales of admissions, we are legally and relentlessly trying to rebalance the scales for our scholars.  We do whatever it takes to help our scholars not only beat the odds as individuals, but eventually change the odds for all.

What else can we do?