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College Access for Students of Color

The gaps in college enrollment between affluent students and students of poverty, and between White students and students of color, are gargantuan. In my role at a high-poverty, minority-segregated public high school (94% economically disadvantaged; 98% Latino), I have seen this gap play out starkly, leading me to wonder about the barriers to college access.

Welton and Martinez (2014) break down college access into three components: college aspiration, academic preparation for college, and application for college. It is the former two of these categories that schools often do not push systematically. In two Texas schools, where the authors interviewed seniors, they found that college-level expectations and rigor are only available in AP or dual-credit classes, which, as one student put it, “there’s a certain population that takes AP classes and there’s a certain population that takes regular classes” (p. 215-216). Welton and Martinez found these two populations were born out of encouragement or lack thereof from teachers and counselors to pursue college: essentially, students were either put on AP (college-preparation) track or a “regular” (simply-graduate) track.

The problem with this dichotomy in high-poverty, high-minority schools like mine is that “regular” students are only further disadvantaged in a world increasingly demanding of college education for economic prosperity. As the authors put it, “a rigorous high school curriculum is one of the highest predictors of college persistence, more so than test scores, for African American and Latino/a students” (p. 203). Perhaps the simple solution is to make every class pre-AP or AP.


  • Which or how many college-level courses does your high school offer?

  • How do counselors decide to enroll or not enroll a student into a college-level (AP, dual-credit, etc.) course?

  • How does the school communicate with students with information about college application and preparedness?

Welton, A.D., & Martinez, M.A. (2014). Coloring the college pathway: A more culturally responsive approach to college readiness and access for students of color in secondary schools. Urban Reviews, 46, 197-223.

Stephen Fleenor has a PhD in Developmental Neurobiology. He has experience working as a science teacher in high-poverty high schools and is currently an instructional coach.