A way to truly increase access for low-income students

If we want to increase access to the University, there are other issues to address.

Lizzie McNamara

I applaud University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler for answering President Barack Obama’s call to increase

access to higher education for low-income students (“Kaler unveils plan to retain low-income students,” Jan. 16) by pledging to increase support for Pell Grant recipients at the University.

However, in order to really ensure that more low-income students have access to a great undergraduate education at the University, we need to start at the best potential source for building social capital for

low-income students: their high school guidance counselors.

I would ask President Kaler to also consider supporting legislative efforts to set caps on counselor ratios in Minnesota.

We have one of the worst student-to-counselor ratios in the country at almost 800-to-1. The professionally recommended ratio is 250-to-1.

Counselors in Minnesota are also required to spend too much of their time on non-guidance tasks, such as administering standardized tests. Counselors don’t have the time to help students fill out complicated applications and understand their financial aid options.

Until we address these issues, low-income students in Minnesota won’t have the same access to the support needed to navigate the college application process as their higher-income peers.

A pair of companion bills is currently in committee at the Legislature (SF 799 and HF 363). If passed, they would begin by establishing grant funding for school districts that have ratios above the recommended levels, in order to expand their counseling and support services teams.

Supporting low-income students already at the University to increase student retention rates and ensure on-time graduation is very important. But it is equally important to make sure qualified, low-income high school students have equal opportunity to apply in the first place.

 

Lizzie McNamara is a Master of Public Policy candidate in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She is also a graduate teaching assistant in the President’s Emerging Scholars Program in the College of Liberal Arts.