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Apodaca: Trying to fix the glaring inequality in education

February 22, 2014|By Patrice Apodaca

In a single week last October, 11 colleges sent representatives to Newport Harbor High School, providing a diverse geographic and academic sampling for students to peruse.

The visitors hailed from prestigious four-year schools, such as Pomona College, New York's Barnard College and Middlebury College in Vermont, as well as from local campuses, such as Orange Coast College.

By the end of January, nearly 100 colleges had sent recruiters to meet with interested Newport Harbor students. A similar number visited Corona del Mar High School.

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Meanwhile, Costa Mesa High School has received about 22 college visits since the start of the school year. And at Estancia High School, only six colleges had representatives on campus during the first half of the school year. During the entire 2012-13 school year, just 12 colleges showed up.

Here we have yet another example of the glaring inequality that exists in education.

The troubling pattern isn't unique to Newport-Mesa. That was made clear in a Los Angeles Times survey of public and private high schools across Southern California. Published in December, it found that schools in affluent communities scored vastly higher numbers of visits by college recruiters than their counterparts with larger proportions of low-income and minority students.

There are a few possible explanations.

Some schools — largely the wealthier ones — have college counselors and coordinators, often paid for by parent donations. These specialists develop relationships with colleges and play a key role in getting admissions people to visit their campuses to meet with students.

For their part, colleges tend to return to the same schools where they've had success finding qualified applicants in the past. They know the schools, the curriculum and the communities, and are rewarded with a ready pool of relatively high-achieving applicants to pad their admissions numbers.

It's probably also no coincidence that the high schools college recruiters favor tend to have students who are less likely to require financial aid.

Does the discrepancy matter?

After all, there are so many ways that inequality reveals itself throughout education, including the lack of access to quality pre-school, enrichment programs and academic support. When the deck is stacked against you, does one more bad card make that much of a difference?

The short answer is yes.

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