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Hoekelman Center October 2021 Newsletter - Revising the Future

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A Note From The Director October 2021, Revising the Future

Malcolm Gladwell

There’s a podcast called Revisionist History and it got me thinking that revising history is interesting but revising the future would be much better. The podcast’s host is best-selling non-fiction writer Malcolm Gladwell. In one of the episodes, he interviews a brilliant boy named Carlos who lives in an impoverished Southern California city with a low-performing school district. Carlos’s predictably dismal educational destiny is turned around by a wealthy and well-connected Hollywood lawyer who gets personally involved in his case and, among other things, sends Carlos to private school.

It’s a touching rescue narrative, and it does a good job of highlighting the problem of how every year in this country we waste the “human capital” of many thousands of children. Kids like Carlos are bright enough to benefit from going to college and would like to, but often they don’t get the chance because of all the obstacles that go along with growing up in poverty. Unfortunately, assigning generous bigshot lawyers to individual children is not a scalable solution.

One promising approach to moving the needle a little bit on this problem is the concept of “college matching.” This comes from research that investigated why high-performing high school students from low-performing districts tended to drop out of college even after they applied and got in. One finding was that they often attended colleges that were not good matches for them academically, either because the students aimed too high or too low. Based on high school scores, potential colleges can be divided into the three categories of reach, par, and safety for each applicant. Going to a “par” college increases the chances of staying until graduation. These findings have given rise to multiple interventions designed to help kids find a good match.

This school year, we are beginning a project to pilot the college matching concept locally at Wilson Magnet High School in Rochester. In addition to the counselors and others at Wilson, we will be partnering with multiple programs, like Rochester College Access Network and Upward Bound, that already provide help with financial aid applications and academic mentoring.

In our model, volunteers from local colleges—many first-generation university students—will offer “coaching” to high school seniors on the college application process. For example, one resource already available in the RCSD is the computer program Naviance, that contains all kinds of data on colleges and can help with the matching process. Research indicates, however, that it works better if students receive guidance on how to use it. Our college-student volunteers are experts on various aspects of getting into college nowadays, including how to use the latest tech. VISTA Americorps volunteer Minhtam Tran is working with us in the Hoekelman Center this year, and has been busy recruiting the “coaches” who are excited to start.

College education is a major predictor of wealth and health. Ultimately, the long-term solution to improving equity in college access is to decrease child poverty and ensure a democracy of opportunity with upward mobility. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to look for points of leverage where we can work together to mobilize existing resources in a way that produces significant benefits now and here.

Paper cited by Gladwell: Hoxby, C. M., & Avery, C. (2012). The missing" one-offs": The hidden supply of high-achieving, low income students (No. w18586). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://www.nber.org/papers/w18586

- Andrew Aligne, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Hoekelman Center

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this page do not reflect those of the University of Rochester Medical Center.