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Using technology to level the playing field and capitalize on our full potential.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bryden Sweeney-Taylor

CREDIT CollegePointEach year, tens of thousands of hardworking students with top grades and test scores from lower-income families all across America fail to apply to our country’s top-performing colleges and universities—institutions they are qualified to attend. In fact, just 6 percent of students at top institutions come from low-income families. Instead, these young people often end up at open-access, two- and four-year colleges well below their abilities—and leave with more debt, lower graduation rates, and dramatically reduced career and leadership opportunities.

We believe the underrepresentation of lower-income students at top-performing colleges and universities is a solvable problem.

When high-achieving, lower-income students do apply to selective colleges and universities, they are accepted, enroll, and graduate at the same rates as their wealthier peers. And lower-income students who attend our top-performing institutions of higher education have earnings that are about 25 percent higher than those of students who attend less competitive colleges, which translates, on average, to a $450,000 difference over the course of a lifetime. At the same time, two-thirds of students at the top 250 colleges and universities nationwide come from the wealthiest quarter of families.

So, what prevents high-achieving, lower-income students from applying to leading colleges and universities?

Many of these students who fail to apply live in rural counties, towns, and small cities—rather than large metropolitan centers—making traditional college recruitment and advising methods unrealistic. Broadly speaking, most high-achieving, lower-income high school students lack three crucial supports in the college process: credible, personalized guidance as to which institutions are a good match given their level of academic achievement; accurate, individualized information about the real costs of top institutions, which are often far less for lower-income students than they believe because of the many scholarships and financial aid opportunities that are available to them; and models of other young people like themselves who have successfully made the transition to top-performing colleges and universities.

We believe we can overcome these obstacles.

In response, Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched a coalition of non-profit organizations and philanthropic institutions called CollegePoint that enables these high-achieving, lower-income students to receive the support and resources they need in order to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of their applying to, enrolling in, and, ultimately, graduating from colleges and universities that match their qualifications.

Starting in the fall of 2014, advisors began providing support and guidance through a broad range of technologies to high-achieving, lower-income high school students across the country, and to date we have served nearly 10,000 students from the high school classes of 2015 and 2016.

CollegePoint advisors are based at proven college access organizations, including the College Advising Corps and College Possible, and eligible students come from all fifty states. Using tools like video chat, document and screen sharing, and text and social media, advisors reach students where they are, whenever they need support.

Using personalized, differentiated approaches made possible through these tools, they help students understand their individual college options and the associated costs, and they give students the skills they need to create and follow through on plans necessary to apply to top-performing colleges and universities when they would not otherwise.

And through a partnership with Khan Academy, these students—and all Khan Academy users—have access to high-quality online content on the college application and financial aid process as they improve their higher education opportunities and, in doing so, transform their futures. In addition, we have taken significant steps to measure the impact of our work, with Professor Benjamin Castleman of the University of Virginia leading a randomized control trial to measure advising outcomes, and we have seen promising initial indicators of success that suggest that CollegePoint advising may have substantial effect on students.

Starting in the fall of 2014, advisors began providing support and guidance through a broad range of technologies to high-achieving, lower-income high school students across the country.

We believe the underrepresentation of lower-income students at top-performing colleges and universities is a solvable problem. In years past, thousands of bright, industrious high school students from lower-income families have missed the chance to go to colleges and universities that match their academic abilities and achievements.

As a result, we are missing an opportunity to capitalize on the full spectrum of American talent. And for low-income high-achievers and their families, we are failing to address education and income inequality from the bottom up. Higher education can be an inflection point for lower-income students, and through CollegePoint and the leveraging of a host of new technologies, for the first time many of these young people from all over the country will receive a unique opportunity to forever change the course of their lives and create new pathways of success within their communities.

Bryden Sweeney-Taylor is CEO of CollegePoint, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative created to increase the number of high-achieving, low- and moderate-income students who apply to and graduate from top colleges and universities with strong graduation rates and financial aid policies. Previously, he served as Executive Director of African Leadership Foundation, the U.S. partner of African Leadership Academy, a leadership development institution dedicated to supporting Africa’s future leaders. Sweeney-Taylor began his career as a grassroots organizer working on political campaigns in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

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