In 12th grade, my friend Ryan and I were finalists for the Silver State Scholars, a competition to identify the “Top 100” seniors in Nevada. The finalists were flown to Lake Tahoe for two days of interviews. On the plane, Ryan and I met a boy from Las Vegas. Looking to size up the competition, we asked what high school he went to. He said a name we didn’t recognize and added, “It’s a magnet school.” Ryan asked what a magnet school was, and spent the remaining hour incredulously demanding a detailed account of the young man’s educational history: his time abroad, his after-school robotics club, his tutors, his college prep courses.
All educations, we realized then, are not created equal. For Ryan and me, of Pahrump, Nev., just an hour from the city, the Vegas boy was a citizen of a planet we would never visit. What we didn’t know was that there were other, more distant planets that we could not even see. And those planets couldn’t see us, either.
A study released last week by researchers at Harvard and Stanford quantified what everyone in my hometown already knew: even the most talented rural poor kids don’t go to the nation’s best colleges. The vast majority, the study found, do not even try.
For deans of admissions brainstorming what they can do to remedy this, might I suggest: anything.
Of course, finding these students and facilitating their admission into elite universities is only half of the story. The other half is providing the resources and supports they need while they’re on campus, so that they don’t continue to feel like aliens.