Harvard University’s Dean of Admissions just announced a new program that will offer free education in a bid to encourage lower income students to apply to Harvard. The Harvard Gazette (10.24) noted the program will combine social media and website marketing aimed at highly gifted children who could qualify for the highest level college education at reduced cost or even for free. The cost of attending an Ivy League university is cited as a major deterrent in getting low income applicants. Only 38% of high achieving school kids from low income homes complete their studies and receive a college degree in contrast with 78% of kids from the highest quarter of America’s homes
““Too many of our nation’s outstanding students, particularly those from modest economic backgrounds, fail to attend college or ‘undermatch’ themselves by not considering selective colleges where their chances of graduation would be better,” said William Fitzsimmons in the statement.
A professor from Cornell University’s Higher Education Research Institute, Ronald G Ehrenberg agreed that it was “admirable for Harvard to launch the effort” but he emphasized that studies consistently show that students who are better informed about financial aid options are more likely to apply to top schools. Mastering the financial aid application process is a skill that necessitates strategic thinking, creative writing, competent organization and the willingness to travel to colleges for interviews. Harvard’s newest program will take away this burden by offering certain low income students a free education.
Educating gifted children has been an issue for parents since time immemorial. From elementary school onwards, teachers are burdened with providing an academic program that is suitable for the next brain surgeons, engineers, actors, environmentalists, technologists and designers. Then there are the kids with emotional, physical and mental issues and those who will clean our homes and our streets. Despite the epic diversity of career paths and income levels, the educational system has focused on streamlining the curriculum with the Grade system. The system is well established but inevitably flawed.
How to educate over-performing children is always in debate. Frequently these kids are educated above the curriculum intended for their grade level. Teachers allow an education program from a higher grade to be made available to the highest performing child in specific subjects, primarily math. Many online resources are available without charge in languages, music, the sciences and so forth. The child’s mind is stretched and they enjoy the experience of learning. This makes the child a prime applicant for university grants and scholarships as the child’s performance in their SAT exams is of the highest level.
But higher grade learning can also lead to alienation and children will “dumb themselves down” to make a better fit with their classmates. A feeling of disconnection with their ability and their classmate’s ability has burdened many a youngster. It’s not just the genius savant who has ample intelligence but underperforming social skills, alienation and loneliness.
Meanwhile, a high grade in college entrance exams is not always sufficient for guaranteeing a college in a choice university. Demand for prestigious and popular universities is higher than available spaces. Those who have excellent academic records suffer from over applications and many teenagers are rejected by their first choice university. Academic success alone is an insufficient determinant. High achieving kids need to achieve in a broad range of activities. Social skills and economic independence are high on the list. Having the qualifications for a university degree is some of the battle; having the finances to pay for further education is another. It is hard to get a college education that is offered for free. Harvard’s new program for intelligent low income students is an excellent start.
By Vicky Judah