Wealthy high schoolers are upping their application game to 25 colleges this year. It’s setting up a big payday for schools while leaving lower-income students behind.
Ayelet Sheffey | December 8, 2021
There’s a sign of a return normalcy in the higher education sphere as more high school seniors are applying to colleges than pre-pandemic. This is good news for universities, but not so good for those who can’t keep up with the rising costs of education.
When COVID-19 first hit college campuses last year, college applications declined due to affordability concerns and issues with remote learning, among other things. But according to the most recent data from the Common App, that trend is reversing and the number of college applications has spiked 22% from pre-pandemic levels. Not only has the number of high school seniors taking a shot at a higher education gone up 13%, but each person is applying to more schools than before.
Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education in New York, told CNBC that while students were applying to 12 to 15 colleges pre-pandemic, now that range has jumped to 20 to 25 schools.
The news isn’t so great for low-income students. According to the Common App, 60% of those applications are from the “most affluent” communities — or the top 20th percentile — of zip codes nationwide, while applications from the lowest-income areas made up just 5% of the pool, unchanged from previous years.
A primary reason for this disparity comes down to affordability. Applying to college isn’t free — it often comes with a $75 fee, and as CNBC reported, those fees generate significant revenue for colleges. In addition, the more people who apply to a college, the more the admission rate will fall, making the school more selective.
“Many students don’t apply to more schools because of affordability,” Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told CNBC. “Low-income students may not even know they can get a fee waiver.”
The mere lack of information is a common issue for low-income Americans seeking a higher education. Only 18% of applicants have received a fee waiver so far this year, and fewer applicants are also applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which hands out grants and student loans to borrowers based on income.
Lack of outreach to low-income students, accompanied by rising tuition costs, is continuing to shut out many low-income students from educational opportunities. That’s something President Joe Biden has pledged to solve. He proposed a Pell grant increase in his Build Back Better framework, and he promised to pass tuition-free community college during his presidency.
Still, while some low-income people are simply choosing not to go to college, others are taking out student loans that can leave them saddled with huge amounts of debt that can last a lifetime, and Biden has not yet acted broadly on that crisis impacting 43 million Americans with federal loans.
Originally published in Business Insider on Dec 8, 2021