What would you do if you were told to fix the problem that bothered you most?
Well, that is exactly what I was asked to do last summer. As an intern for the Netter Center’s Penn Program for Public Service, I co-wrote a Problem Solving Learning paper to help address the issue that I deemed most important: increased University support for low-income students at Penn.
My PSL partner, Katerine Jimenez, and I both come from low-income families and attend Penn on scholarship thanks to QuestBridge, a nonprofit organization that recruits low-income, high-achieving students to apply to top-tier schools with the promise of generous financial aid.
Through partnering with QuestBridge in 2008 and increasing the financial aid budget more than 100 percent since 2004, Penn has shown its dedication to college access. However, once Quest Scholars are on campus, this support fades. There are over 200 students that comprise the Quest Scholars chapter at Penn, and yet in the past three years that I have been active with the community, no University administrator has offered support or reached out to make an initial connection with us.
When universities admit low-income students without providing adequate support, they perpetuate educational disparities that have been confirmed in numerous studies. One study found in the book “Rewarding Strivers” shows that students who score 1200-1600 on the SAT and come from the bottom income quartile have a 44 percent chance of graduating with a four-year degree by the age of 24, whereas for those in the top income quartile with comparable scores, this number increases to 82 percent.
Although other studies find low-income students achieve greater success at rigorous schools such as Penn compared to less competitive schools, the challenge of coming from a low-income household and navigating the complexities of college is still significant. Quest Scholars and other low-income students do not typically come from elite private schools or well-resourced public schools that help prepare others for academics at schools like Penn. And while many of our friends have the luxury of calling their families to ask for help with editing a paper, finding internships or filing taxes, we do not.
Lacking these privileges, low-income students look for support within Penn. Unfortunately, our research shows that the University can do much better. In a survey of 35 Quest Scholars, the average response was 2.34 on a five-point scale when asked how much support the University gives to the Quest Scholars chapter. When asked about personal satisfaction with Penn’s support, excluding financial support, the average response was a 2.88 on a five-point scale.
This data is not representative of the entire Quest Scholars community, but it identifies a problem regarding inadequate support. In a 2012 Penn self-study, the University admitted to a 9.2 percent difference in four-year graduation rates between high-need students and no-need students — an outcome that is almost surely based in part on the absence of support programming.
In order to become a university that is truly invested in improving the lives of its low-income students, the first step is simple: talk. The University needs a forum for discussion if we are to understand where support for low-income students is lacking and how to improve it.
Therefore, Kat and I propose the creation of a council, the University Council for Low-Income Student Support and Success, made up of dedicated and passionate Penn administrators, faculty and students whose goal is to determine the best ways to support low-income students at Penn, ensuring positive undergraduate experiences that lead to timely graduation.
Through this council, concrete improvements will be made in academic, career, financial and healthy-living support programs and services. The council will serve as a space for conversations which will, through simple program planning, faculty dedication and minimal University funding, lead to positive actions.
For action to begin, we ask that Penn administrators meet with us to hear the needs of Quest Scholars and other low-income students. Administration support will be crucial in creating a council that seeks to improve the Penn experience for all low-income students. This council is not merely a proposal; it is a call to action — a call for the University of Pennsylvania to do the right thing for its underserved students.
CHEYENNE ROGERS is a College junior from Naples, Fla., studying communication. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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