Addressing the COVID Gap Year Among Low-income Students and Students of Color
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major disruption for U.S. students and has led to a severe reduction in college enrollment, especially among low-income and underrepresented minority students. For instance, at community colleges, Black, Hispanic and Native American freshman enrollment is down by nearly 30 percent and White and Asian American freshman enrollment is down by about 20 percent. The fact that economically disadvantaged U.S. high school seniors and recent graduates have had their college-going plans disrupted raises concern that these students’ college-going intentions will be derailed beyond a year and have long-term negative consequences for their educational attainment and ultimately economic security. We will study an intervention focused on helping low-income and underrepresented minority students get their college-going plans back on track. In our proposed work, we partner with the Rhode Island Department of Education and the non-profit Let’s Get Ready to implement a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) evaluation of a near-peer mentoring program that will serve graduating high school seniors from the Class of 2020 who expressed interest in college, but did not enroll in 2021. Ninety percent of students in our potential study sample are students of color and 70 percent will be first generation college if they enroll. The RCT will involve two treatment arms, defined by having more or less intensive mentoring services. In both treatment arms, mentor-mentee communication will occur virtually, via text messaging and one-on-one phone or video conversations. Let’s Get Ready mentors will assist unenrolled high school graduates with the college choice and application process. Program students who enroll in college will then continue to receive college-going mentoring support for up to four years, including the option of intensive near-peer mentoring for the first two years. Our evaluation of this intervention will use a mixed methods approach to investigate mechanisms for the impacts. We will use standard RCT econometric techniques to examine impacts on college enrollment, college persistence, graduation outcomes, and eventually earnings. We will augment our econometric analyses with more qualitative methods to gain insight into the major challenges faced by students in our study sample and the likely mechanisms behind any observed effects of the intervention.