Reaching out to all students

Reaching out to all students

The editorial ("Creating fair access to stepladder of education"; Thursday) is spot-on in highlighting the unfortunate fact that elite colleges in the United States are not admitting students from lower-income families in any greater proportion than they were a generation ago, even as the grades and test scores of these students have risen.

But while the editorial advocates solutions that range from placing more responsibility on students and their families, to greater engagement on the part of policymakers, what is missing is explicit mention of the role of the elite colleges themselves.

It is not enough for these colleges to nominally open their doors to a wider range of students by internal adoption of admission policies that do not consider the applicants' financial situation, and generous aid packages for those who qualify.

If potential applicants are not made aware of such initiatives, these might as well not exist.

So the leading educational institutions have a responsibility to engage in such outreach and to actively seek out a more diverse applicant pool.

Furthermore, it is imperative that colleges and universities recognise a unique commitment to needy students that extends throughout their life on campus. Research has shown that whether enrolled students graduate on time (or at all) largely depends on the income of their parents, and that even when varying baseline levels of academic ability are held constant, richer students will outperform their poorer counterparts on this measure.

Finally, as the editorial made reference to Singapore, education as an instrument of social mobility does not begin and end at the university level; it starts even before the child's first day of primary school.

In my home city of New York, 50,000 four-year-olds began pre-school this month, thanks to Mayor Bill de Blasio's efforts to ensure state funding for free, full-day instruction at the pre-kindergarten level. This is a step in the right direction and an idea with great global relevance.

Katri A. Stanley (Ms)

This article was published on Sept 6 in The Straits Times.

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