Tackling the Harder Climb to Higher Education

In a Wednesday segment on The Brian Lehrer Show, Jason DeParle, senior writer at The New York Times and author of American Dream, said the gap between rich and poor students has widened in the last 30 years, even among students performing at similar academic levels.

According to his article and data graph, low-income students with above-average scores on eighth grade tests have a college graduation rate of 26 percent which is lower than more affluent students with worse test scores. Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference in the share of affluent and poor students who earned a college degree. Now the gap is 45 points.

He was joined by Kristen Harris, the director of college guidance at the Columbia Secondary School and chairperson of The College Access Consortium of New York (CACNY).

She said the gap is a result largely of inadequate supports, from too little money for enrichment activities to not enough counselors in high school and college to help the students advocate for themselves and get the help they need.

Too often, she said, the bureaucracy of the college and financial aid application process can trip up students navigating it by themselves.

"Our students really need to be supported through this process to understand that deadlines are real and they need to meet them. And if they don't then severe consequences come," Harris said.

One online commentator said it takes a combination of supports to succeed.

"As a Hispanic woman from a low income community, attending the City University system and then Harvard University, I can testify it is a lifelong process," said Lisa from NYC. "Persistence, dedication, a supportive family and great teachers are all part of the necessary mixed to make it through."

Amy from Manhattan said the colleges have a responsibility to find talented students, wherever they live. "Colleges should be actively reaching out to students who need this kind of help. Even if they don't have enough personnel, they should be able to refer students to places that can help them," she wrote.