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Report Calls For ‘Poverty Preference’ In College Admissions

“The bottom line here is access to our nation’s best colleges is increasingly a function of wealth and station, not academic merit.”


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Colleges across the country are waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in the latest affirmative action case from the University of Texas at Austin.

But a new report calls for a different kind of admissions practice: a poverty-based preference for high-achieving students vying for selective colleges.

At the most elite universities, almost 75 percent of students come from the country's wealthiest 25 percent of families. Only 3 percent of students come from the opposite end of the economic spectrum, the poorest 25 percent of households.

“The bottom line here is access to our nation's best colleges is increasingly a function of wealth and station, not academic merit,” said Harold Levy, who used to lead the New York City public schools and now directs the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. It supports talented students with financial need through scholarships, counseling and other support services.

“In the same way that there are preferences all along the way, athletic preference, legacy preference for alumni's children, we call for a poverty preference that would address many of the same issues.”

Levy said that there are different ways to consider income, such as concentrated neighborhood poverty or single parent homes.

He believes that this strategy offers a real alternative if the Supreme Court limits or removes race-conscious admissions.

“Preferential college admissions for qualified, low-income students could result in as much or more racial and ethnic diversity than is being achieved now by race-conscious affirmative action,” he added, pointing to the success of similar programs in California.

And if the justices uphold affirmative action, Levy said that high-achieving, low-income students still need an even playing field.


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