College Counseling and the Achievement Gap

Closing the black-white – and the rich-poor – achievement gap is a frequent topic of conversation on this blog. Economist Christopher Avery takes a look (ungated version here) at one intervention aimed at closing the gap: providing college counselors for high-achieving, low-income students. The counseling didn’t have much effect on application quality, but Avery did find that “students offered counseling were 7.9 percentage points more likely than students not offered counseling to enroll in colleges ranked by Barron’s as ‘Most Competitive,’ though this effect was not statistically significant.” One big problem with the pilot program? Over one-third of the students matched with college counselors didn’t follow through on all of their counselor’s advice. “[O]ur statistical analysis suggests that counseling would have had approximately twice as much effect if all students matched with counselors had followed the advice of the counselors,” concludes Avery. So how about combining counseling with a few well-placed nudges? [%comments]

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    How do they arrive at the figure “approximately twice as much”? An inability to take advice from a qualified person suggests character traits that, even had they gone to the good colleges, would likely have meant they would have trouble completing the courses. In turn that suggests that the intervention is happening years too late, and band aids like “nudges” won’t do any good.

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  2. John says:

    How was their drop-out rate? Just because they were convinced to go to a better, possibly more expensive college doesn’t mean that was necessarily the right idea.

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  3. Steve Nations says:

    I agree with Ian K.

    Isn’t their failure to follow through on their counselor’s advice part of the results of the study, rather than a problem in the study?

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  4. ceolaf says:

    What would matter is if it impact college completion rates, or at least how long students persist in college.

    It doesn’t matter if they go to more selective colleges if the drop out faster.

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  5. Andrew says:

    Take a look at Strive for College, a non-profit looking to help change this by having volunteer current college students work with high school seniors.

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  6. Justin James says:

    @Ian (#1) –

    Exactly what I was going to say. The last thing the college system (and the taxpayers subsidzing the loans, and the students taking them out) need is an influx of people who can’t be bothered to even apply to college without “nudges”.


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  7. DJ says:

    J.Ja – the last thing they need is students who are pushed into college? Really? Most college students have parents who “nudged” them towards applying to college, often starting at a young age. These are the students whose family’s have no idea even how to apply to college.

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  8. Justin James says:

    @DJ (#7) –

    Yes, really. There’s a difference between me telling my 3 year old son that if he wants to be an astronaut, he needs to study hard, not go to jail, and join the US Air Force (yes, we had this talk today). It’s another thing to have to push an 18 year old *adult* (that’s the age of a senior) to do something that will probably make the difference between remaining low income and achieving middle or even upper class status. If you are old enough to apply for college and don’t want it enough to do the paperwork, you don’t belong in college. The study gave them counselors to help them, who were giving them useful advice. If they were too lazy to follow the advice, they don’t have what it takes to make it in college or the workforce. Maybe when they are struggling to pay their bills they’ll wish they could be bothered to spend a few hours filling out paperwork.


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