These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

Can the poor get into top colleges?

Originally Posted by The Denver Post on 11/23/2014. Copyright © Written by The Denver Post Editorial Board. Read here.
Not every college education is created equal, and it should come as no surprise that Colorado children from the lowest-income families are the least likely to go to the best colleges.

Not surprising, but not acceptable, either. And not necessary, as we shall see.

While going to any college is far better than not attending one at all, not all higher education degrees confer the same benefit. And while elite colleges tend to be expensive, they’re also likely to provide more financial aid, too.

The education advocacy group A+ Denver has released a report detailing just how few of Colorado’s low-income kids go to top-tier colleges — just 3 percent of such graduates.

Meanwhile, 12 percent of Colorado kids who graduate who are not low income go to those schools.

Part of the answer to this gap is obvious: a general improvement in Colorado’s educational system. A rising tide lifts all boats.

But the report, called “Missing the Bus,” provides other clues, too.

For one, the report notes that children who receive free or reduced-price lunches and live in wealthier districts are more likely to attend top-tier colleges, while low-income students who live in districts with higher concentrations of poverty are less likely to do so. Is that a function of higher expectations? A curriculum more geared toward college prep? Or are the kids in poor districts generally worse off than their peers in wealthier districts? Not all poverty is created equal.

But policy-makers aren’t helpless even without the answers to those questions. As it happens, a handful of the state’s high schools seem to do a better job at sending low-income kids to top-tier colleges, a list of 169 compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

The top tier includes elite Ivy League schools, private colleges and flagship state schools. The ranking, admittedly arbitrary, does not include “access” schools, such as community colleges. In Colorado, the two programs that send the most low-income kids to top-tier colleges are George Washington High School‘s International Baccalaureate program and Denver School of Science and Technology. Both are in Denver and both are highly regarded for their rigorous curriculums. Bravo.

Yet, the raw numbers even for these schools are low. For instance, George Washington scored the highest in the report, sending 44 percent of its low-income kids to top-tier schools over three academic years. But that was only 17 students. And the numbers at other schools are even smaller.

We can do better by Colorado students. Indeed, we must.