Low-Income Students, Elite Schools, and the Significance of HISD’s EMERGE Program

It’s a sad fact that socioeconomically disadvantaged students are less likely to attend college than their wealthier counterparts. Not only that, but when they do pursue higher education, they’re less likely to apply to and attend elite schools.

A recent feature on NPR addressed the phenomenon of “undermatching,” the tendency of low-income students to attend less prestigious local colleges or community colleges. One point the piece raised – a point which may come as a surprise – is that money is not necessarily the primary deterrent keeping low-income students from attending elite colleges and universities. In fact, many top-ranked schools are better equipped to offer financial aid than less prestigious schools are, so for students with significant financial need, a mid-range school. However, due to the various deterring factors discussed in the piece, many low-income students never have occasion to discover this, as they apply to and attend smaller local schools instead.

The situation described in the NPR feature¬†underscores the importance of HISD’s EMERGE program. EMERGE, a college preparatory program which is currently offered in half of HISD’s high schools and will soon be offered in all of them, is designed specifically to help low-income, high-achieving students overcome the obstacles that might keep them from attaining a top-quality undergraduate education. EMERGE evens the odds for these students by providing detailed guidance on the college application process – guidance of the sort which middle-class parents can often provide to their children on the basis of their own experience, valuable knowledge which first-generation college students do not generally have access to. The program also focuses on educating students and parents about the affordability of an elite education and actively combating the other deterrents which keep so many disadvantaged students from applying to top-ranked colleges and universities.

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