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]


After reading the details of the study, I'm not so sure that we should draw the conclusion that providing independent college counseling would not help to close the gap (gap here being college admissions and not achievement ). I actually have a hard time critiquing the students; I am more apt to critique the study design. There are many programs around the nation that have excellent results. What's most important is the program design (ensuring that you are providing exactly what the students need) and the student selection process (the students must be as invested in the program as the program is in the student). When these 2 points are addressed, you will find that the results of the program are drastically different from the results in this study.