Increasing the pipeline of low-income and first-gen college-bound youth into the UC system

By: Lara Fox | Monday, October 3, 2016
Imagine yourself in the shoes of one of uAspire’s advisees, Brandon:

You’re 18 years old. You’re sitting on a friend’s couch, which is where you’ve been sleeping because you don’t have a safe home of your own. You’re staring at the computer screen—at the web portal of a dream college that has just admitted you—and you’re trying to process the enormous number in front of you:

Cost of Attendance: $33,418

You think to yourself: “There is no way. I am on my own. I can’t pay anything.”

Now you’re sitting in your high school, and your uAspire College Affordability Advisor is smiling while he tells you something that you are slowly starting to believe. He’s pointing to the lines below, saying words like “Pell Grant” and “Cal Grant” and “Chaffee grant for foster youth.” He’s explaining “institutional aid.” He’s smiling. Your eyes are filling with tears. He’s saying it’s possible. You can go to one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. And you can live on campus. You don’t have to worry anymore about where to call home.

This fall, Brandon began his freshman year at UC Berkeley. His story is so powerful—yet not unique. In fact, it fits into a pattern that our team at uAspire has been thrilled to observe: that for academically eligible students from the lowest-income backgrounds, the UCs can be the most affordable option around.

It is thus with excitement that uAspire Bay Area announces a new partnership with the University of California system.

How are we partnering?

Beginning this week, uAspire will provide college affordability advising to a targeted group of participants in UC Pre-College Scholars—a program to encourage high-achieving students from backgrounds under-represented in higher education to strive for a UC education. In collaboration with UC’s Early Academic Outreach Program staff, uAspire will use a blended model of in-person workshops and our virtual (text-messaged) advising to support approximately 450 high school students growing up near UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Riverside. uAspire’s UC College Affordability Advisor will serve this cohort from the beginning of 11th grade through the summer after 12thgrade.

This approach draws on lessons learned from our Bay Area advising as well as a recently concluded pilot in which uAspire’s national office provided virtual advising to over 30,000 students across 15 states. Our first two years of UC campus work will take place outside the Bay Area to avoid overlap with a federally funded research study that we are executing locally through June 2018.

What do we aim to achieve?

uAspire and UC aim to increase the pipeline of low-income and first-generation college-bound students into our state’s most selective public colleges and counteract academic undermatching, a documented phenomenon in which students—especially low-income and first-generation college-bound students—attend colleges that are less selective than their academic achievements merit. Addressing undermatching is critical because research has shown that when students do attend a college that matches their achievement level, they are more likely to graduate, and in less time. In addition, both UC and uAspire will gain actionable new insights on helping under-represented students navigate their way to a college education that is both affordable and a good academic fit.

We look forward to sharing our learnings with you as the initiative unfolds!

Understanding UC Affordability

One likely cause of students from under-represented backgrounds in higher education not choosing to apply for a UC education is the widespread notion that such rigorous schools will be unaffordable. At uAspire, we have seen—and research from The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) supports—that a UC can be the most affordable post-secondary option for academically qualified low-income students. More than half of UC students pay no tuition at all, thanks to aid that covers tuition and fees for families with incomes of $80,000 or less.

Want some more good news?

The UC system has an impressive six-year graduation rate of 85% for Pell Grant recipients—a full 33 percentage points above the average for the same group nationally.