Our Best and Brightest not Good Enough?

To become a Valedictorian, a high school student must perform incredibly well, mixing her drive with her innate talent to secure solid A's for four years. In our school district, she also must take rigorous coursework, including Advanced Placement, Calculus and Foreign Language. Most school valedictorians are also involved in sports, student government or clubs during high school. If anyone is the ideal candidate for a top-notch school, it ought to be these guys.

Nationally, Lisa Wade's research showed that family income is a major determinant of how many valedictorians choose highly selective (or even private non-profit) colleges. Here are the types of colleges chosen by valedictorians, according to family income (SES) status.
University of Chicago

Nationwide Data
Highly Selective Other Private Other Public
High SES Vals 74% 10% 16%
Middle SES Vals 47% 20% 32%
Low SES Vals 43% 23% 34%,

She identifies the factors that matter:
  • Knowing others who attend/attended highly selective schools
  • Counselors or others explaining financial aid, application process and offering encouragement (perceptions of cost differences)
  • Family support 
The discrepancy between wealthy, middle class and poor families is concerning. Using the same criteria, I took a look at our local picture. Fortunately, our local newspaper publishes the names, achievements and goals of valedictorians from our six local high schools. I was able to identify the college choices for each of them over the past eight years. The high schools' enrollments range from 100 to 2000 students with four of them between 300 to 700 students. This is a rural high poverty county.

Percentages of Local Valedictorians Choosing Colleges that are...

Highly Selective (accept 30% or less) Selective (accept 50% or less) Other Private 4-Year Other Public 4-Year Community College Unknown
5% 10% 22% 51% 5% 6%

By school, arranged from largest high school to the smallest, the percentages attending ANY private or out-of-state college were:

39% 39% 65% 23% 20% 0%

In 2015, more local valedictorians chose selective and highly selective colleges. Here is the breakdown for the ten 2015 Valedictorians from our five local high schools:

Highly Selective Colleges (Columbia, West Point, Dartmouth)
Selective Colleges (Reed, BYU)
Other Private or Out-of-state (Willamette)
State or Community Colleges in Oregon

None of our six local high schools sent more than 7% of valedictorians to a highly selective college. When neither parents nor friends have gone to these schools, it's up to schools and counselors to encourage students to make the reach.

Our public universities, community colleges, and other private non-profit colleges are wonderful destinations for students. This is not to argue otherwise. But students who attend certain prestigious universities do reap benefits from rigor to connections to confidence to career opportunities.

Aren't OUR kids good enough?  If so, what are we going to do to ensure they get a fair shake?

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