The real crisis in American higher education is that our best colleges never see a large chunk of our smartest students.
In an important recent study, the economists Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery found that very few high achievers from low-income families ever apply to top colleges, and that the missing applications from these kids largely explain why they’re underrepresented at our leading universities.
At first glance, poor students’ reluctance to aim for the Ivy League might seem to make sense. After all, there’s no way the typical low-income family can afford tuition of $50,000 a year. But in reality, they don’t have to pay anything for these schools.