From the National Bureau of Economic Research is a new paper from Harvard University's Christopher Avery, which reports the results of a pilot study on the effects of college counseling for "high-achieving, low-income students." The short of it is that for those students, college counseling significantly influenced student outcomes through application choice rather than application quality. Put another way, students in the study were more likely to apply to more competitive schools but weren't as keen on some of the methods to improve their applications.
Avery admits to the as-of-now low utility of the research, but I think it might relate to an earlier study, by the Education Trust, that shows an abysmally low graduation rate for minority college students. According to the Trust, the graduation rate for African American students is 54.7 percent at private colleges and universities, and 43.3 percent at their public counterparts. By contrast, whites graduate at a rate 18.7 percent higher at private schools, and 16.2 percent higher at public ones. The numbers are a little better for Hispanic students, but not by much. While a skills mismatch is responsible for some of the difference, a large part of the problem, as the report shows, is the schools themselves; many of these students are enrolled in "dropout factories" which do little to help them succeed.
It's possible that some of the problem has to do with poor college counseling; minority students are more likely to be low-income students, and as such, more likely to lack access to the formal and informal resources necessary to make wise college choices. These high-achieving students might not think to apply to competitive schools, and even if they did, might not know where to start. In lieu of better choices, odds are good that these students will apply to schools like Wayne State University, which enroll huge numbers of students but graduate vanishingly few of them. Obviously, better college guidance isn't a panacea -- ultimately, as the Washington Monthly noted in its piece on "dropout factories," greater scrutiny for non-selective schools is necessary -- but on the margins, it could help.
-- Jamelle Bouie