Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Study: Hispanic, Black Students Choosing ‘Safety Schools’ Over Elite Institutions

A new National Bureau of Economic Research study reveals many qualified black and Hispanic students aren't applying to elite institutions, choosing "safety schools" close to home instead. 
Source: Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

In a new study evaluating the college application habits of recent high school graduates in Texas, researchers found that academically talented Hispanic and black students were likely to pass up a chance at an Ivy League education and apply to colleges closer to home. 

According to the study, produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “When applying to college, minorities are influenced by more than just matching their academic ability to the institution, and prefer institutions with a large proportion of same race students and campuses where same race students from their high school have been successful in the past.”

These so-called “safety schools” – traditionally back-up choices — are often the first pick for Hispanic and black students, if they apply to college at all. 

“One possible explanation for the disparities observed is that students have incorrect assessments of the likelihood of gaining admission to college, and this varies by race and ethnicity,” the study states. Yet the patterns held true even in Texas, where students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class are guaranteed admission into any of the state’s public colleges and universities, including the elite flagships University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. 

In a story for TakePart on the trends, Joseph Williams reports, “While the study’s authors wrote that the source of those trends are unclear, they acknowledge that cultural differences — including the likelihood that black and Latino students in the study are the first in their families to head to college — are factors. However, other issues could be in play — including a lack of guidance through the college selection process as well as the high cost of college applications and conflicting emotions about leaving the family nest.”

It could be a matter of sticking with what you know, Lauren Sefton, president of the Southern Association of College Admission Counseling, told Williams. “There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the country and it can be overwhelming for students to do the research and expand their search beyond their backyards.”

The National Bureau of Economic Research study also reveals that Hispanics are least likely of all demographic groups studied to apply to college – ”despite having higher average college readiness than black students.” Hispanics who do enroll in college are more likely to attend two-year institutions, other research has shown. 

As the Latin Post points out in a recent article, numerous Ivy League schools have programs designed to attract bright first-generation students, impressing upon them the importance of selecting a strong academic experience beyond their comfort zone.

Just last year Harvard admitted a record high number of black and Latino students to its class of 2018.