News: College Access & Success

Digital College Access Tools May Leave Low-Income Students Behind

Wednesday, October 17, 2018  
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By guest blogger David Childers, Assistant Manager of College Access Content and Guidance at Get Schooled 

At NCAN’s 2018 national conference, the session “Is EduTech Helping Or Hurting College Access?” offered a reflection on the effectiveness of currently available digital tools in the college access space, based on the report “How Is Technology Addressing the College Access Challenge?” authored by Get Schooled and USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education. 

The report found that while digital educational tech tools have incredible potential to serve students in applying, paying for, and obtaining a postsecondary degree or certificate, the current state of EduTech tools largely caters to students from higher-income families who can afford tools/services gated by fees and paywalls and high-performing, proactive students. 

  • The closest digital approximation of in-person guidance – namely, different forms of one-on-one online counseling – is prohibitively expensive for the students who need it most.

  • While many EduTech tools provide rich insight into how students from all kinds of backgrounds can achieve and pay for a postsecondary education, they do so passively.

  • This privileges high-performing students – i.e., the minority of academically proactive students who take the initiative to personally scour the internet and educate themselves about the complicated postsecondary education process. 

In our panel, we compared this to how information sits in a library. Anyone can inform themselves about a topic if they visit the library and study proactively enough. Likewise, any student in theory could teach themselves how to ace challenging AP classes, or learn the entire college application process – the ins and outs of financial aid, ACT/SAT prep, student loans, etc. But the reality is most students, and especially underserved low-income students, don’t do this. 

So when organizations create great digital tools and websites with content explaining these confusing topics and then let them sit – maybe send out an email or two, a tweet, or Facebook post – we aren’t serving the students we need to be serving.

During the “Is EduTech Helping Or Hurting College Access?” conference session, we focused on the opportunities to resolve these issues using Get Schooled’s own experience creating engaging digital content and blending it with interpersonal, face-to-face engagement. Drawing from our experience with our College Text-line, in-school challenges, and campaigns like our financial literacy campaign with 21 Savage, we adopted a proactive praxis of meeting students where they are, instead of creating something great and saying “come get it!”

Get Schooled’s College Text-line functions like a virtual counselor. Our team of college coaches are a text message away, ready to answer any questions students might have. But we also proactively disseminate content based on personalized conversations we have with half a million students. Similarly, our challenges motivate students to consume educational content on our website by providing prizes, swag, and cash awards for their school.

21 Savage’s financial literacy campaign was born out of listening to college students who struggled. They told us financial literacy was a skill that wish they had, and was a factor in what caused them to struggle and, in severe cases, drop out. So, we created content around that topic and partnered with a public figure they recognize and who went through exactly what they’re going through. 

Creating digital content that serves low-income students, among whom the digital inequity divide is felt most strongly, means understanding the obstacles low-income students face – financial struggles, limited access to counselors, overwhelmingly busy school and work schedules, and so on – and proactively meeting them there.