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Identifying Obstacles to Acceptance by Academic Elite

The Rockville Institute was awarded a research grant by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to identify the relative effects of different socioeconomic obstacles on student achievement. Historically, highly selective colleges admit more low-performing students with high socioeconomic status than high-performing students with low socioeconomic status ("strivers"). The strivers perform well enough for admittance but don't get in. Why, what are the obstacles, what is the threshold or cut off, and how does wealth—as opposed to income—affect the outcome? Ultimately, this research is aimed to convince admissions officers of selective colleges and universities to admit more qualified students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A key addition to this research is to test whether wealth (e.g., the ownership of income-bearing assets) has an effect separate from income. Income is known to be an important obstacle to success, but the effects of wealth on academic performance is understudied.

"Income only provides part of the story," explains Jeff Strohl, PhD, who serves as the project director. He notes that when comparing whites to blacks, differences in wealth are profoundly greater than differences in income. In 2000, the median wealth of households headed by whites was $79,400 while the median for households headed by blacks was $7,500. Excluding home equity, the difference was still quite large: $22,566 for white households and $1,166 for black households.*

The Rockville Institute will deliver the results of its research to the National Center on Education and the Economy who, in conjunction with researchers from the Century Foundation, will produce a report of findings to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education for consideration.

*Domhoff, G.W. (2006, February). Wealth, income, and power. Available:

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