Informing Students about Their College Options: A Proposal for Broadening the Expanding College Opportunities Project


Most high-achieving, low-income students do not even apply to selective colleges despite being highly qualified for admission and success at these institutions. Because they do not apply, these students forgo the generous academic resources, increased financial aid, and better collegiate and career opportunities that selective schools offer. To increase opportunities and improve outcomes for these students, we propose building on the success of an innovative intervention, the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) Project. At a relatively low cost of about $6 per student contacted, ECO sent the following to high-achieving, low-income students: targeted and personalized information on their college options, information on the process for applying, and details of the financial information relevant to their situations. The intervention had a profound effect on their college application behavior, leading to a substantial increase in their propensity to apply to more-selective colleges commensurate with their academic achievements. Not only did students apply to more-selective schools, but they were accepted and matriculated at such schools in greater numbers, and early evidence points to their academic success in these programs. The promising results of this low-cost program suggest that ECO should be expanded. This paper proposes steps to expand and improve ECO to reach more low-income, high-achieving students across the country by partnering with respected third-party organizations such as the College Board and ACT. ECO can also serve as a model for designing and applying this type of intervention to other populations of students. The success of the ECO Project highlights the importance of researchers being able to access relevant government data to design targeted and effective programs and policies.