PROOF POINTS: Study finds guaranteed free tuition lures low-income students

PROOF POINTS: Study finds guaranteed free tuition lures low-income students


Low-income students who were offered an upfront guarantee of free tuition at the University of Michigan were far more likely to apply and enroll than students who were told they would likely qualify for free tuition. Credit: Oleg Albinsky/Getty Images

What is the best way to help more bright low-income students attend elite colleges? 

Typically, we tell these prospective college students to fill out forms to see how much financial aid they can get. But families don’t learn about their final costs until after they apply, answer more than 100 questions about their family’s finances and furnish verifying documents.  That appears to create a persistent obstacle. Researchers have consistently found that some high-achieving high school students – the ones with straight A’s and SAT scores above 1200 – don’t bother to apply to top colleges despite the likelihood of admission and a free ride. 

A 2017 study by Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that many elite colleges, including the majority of the Ivy League, enroll more students from the top 1 percent than the bottom 60 percent. At the University of Michigan, the state’s prestigious flagship, it’s not as extreme, but 9 percent of undergraduates came from families that made more than $630,000 compared with 16.5 percent of students from families that make under $65,000.