University of Southern California

Digital College Access Tools May Leave Low-Income Students Behind

Posted on October 30, 2018

By 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.

How is Technology Addressing the College Access Challenge?: A Review of the Landscape, Opportunities, and Gaps


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