Nov 07 2017
Digital Workspace

3 Ways Tech Levels the College Playing Field for Low-Income Students

Thanks to digital tools, students can have equal access to success.

To create the best possible world of tomorrow, calling on a unique variety of stakeholders is key. Yet, at the nation’s most selective colleges — which are also the top colleges in the country — only 3 percent of incoming freshmen come from low-income families, finds a report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

At these same universities, a staggering 72 percent of freshmen come from families in the wealthiest quartile.

“When low-income students do apply to selective institutions, they face additional barriers because the admissions processes at such institutions are built on a series of preferences that reduce the chances of high-achieving, low-income students gaining admission,” reads the report.

When high-achieving, low-income students do get into these selective colleges, the foundation finds that these students perform just as well as students of other backgrounds.

While these high-achieving, low-income students run into a variety of issues when trying to apply to college, technology can make this difficult process easier and put them on the path toward reaching their full potential.

1. Apps and Mobile Devices Provide Application Support

According to the Cooke Foundation report, about one in four low-income students are applying to college completely on their own. Around 29 percent of those students found the admissions process to be confusing, with most saying that they were confused about how to apply for financial aid.

“It was really stressful,” says student Anna Neuman in an NPR article. “I was like: ‘What is going on?’ None of my friends knew anything — their parents didn’t go [to college]. It was just us Googling stuff.”

For Neuman, the process was particularly confusing because her high school counselor worked at different schools and wasn’t available for meetings.

For students like Neuman, programs such as Better Make Room, which uses social media and text messaging to help students struggling with the application process, are crucial for offering support. College recruiting departments can also make use of mobile devices and digital tools to reach these students specifically and offer support.

In addition to using digital checklists and text message supports, the Cooke Foundation report also suggests that universities seek to match up applicants with faculty, staff and students from the university for support and look to tailor recruiting and marketing to these students.

The foundation notes that 30 percent of low-income students found that the university websites and promotional materials made it seem as though only high-income students went there.

Some schools have addressed this issue. Pomona College in Clarement, Calif., for example, crafted outreach messages specifically to these students and even featured students from similar backgrounds in digital messaging, the report indicates.

2. Immersive Tools Bring Campus to Students

The report also found that 44 percent of low-income students didn’t visit their top choice university before deciding whether or not to apply and 75 percent of those students indicated that cost was the reason they didn’t go.

While the Cooke Foundation aptly suggests that universities could look to limit the costs to these students by paying for travel, digital tools can also help to bring these students to campus.

Some universities have embraced virtual maps with built-in campus tours as a win-win for both current and prospective students. The 3-D maps let students explore the whole campus on their own accord.

Other schools have tapped technologies such as augmented and virtual reality to engage with students and these techniques could pay off if they give low-income students a taste of campus life.

Savannah College of Art and Design sent out special Google Cardboard headsets with course catalogs so that prospective students could dive deeper into the academics of the school. The headsets, which work with any smartphone, paired with an app that used AR to make the catalogs come alive with videos and other interactive content.

3. Leveraging Tech to Keep Communications Open

Once low-income students make it through the application process and onto campus, they often still need additional support. The Cooke Foundation finds that these students are less likely than their peers to have taken advanced placement courses or have other academic experiences that are similar to what they face at college.

With large numbers of low-income students also being first-generation college students, Youngstown State University has released a mobile app to assist these students with navigating college life, eCampus News reports.

Using the app, students have a direct pipeline to course listings, payment portals and other resources. The app uses smart calendars that are able to sync with student schedules and Microsoft Office 365 Outlook accounts. Students and staff can also integrate the app directly into learning management systems and student information systems to collect real-time data on student engagement, eCampus News reports.

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