The number of low-income students attending college is growing: According to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center, the total share of undergraduate college students from low-income families increased from 12% in 1996 to 20% in 2016. However, only 11% of students in the lowest income quartile complete their degrees within six years, compared to 58% for those in the highest quartile.
This discrepancy should make you stop. Why do so many low-income students go to college but not to complete a degree, thus not reaching their full potential in the workforce? The short answer includes the problem: the lack of unique and meaningful support and resources. And in the technology sector specifically, this lack of support stems from a problematic ecosystem that often assumes privilege and affluence in its students and future employees.
These assumptions (subconscious or not) perpetuate a tech industry that fails to access a critical and productive talent pool by wrongly and persistently excluding low-income students from educational and career opportunities that open doors.
The technical-to-vocational education pipeline is clearly failing low-income students before they complete a degree and enter one of the highest-paying sectors of our economy — but we’re not talking about that. Socioeconomic status has to be part of the ‘diversity’ conversation – it is underreported and under-discussed.
What does it mean to confuse privilege and potential?
As in many industries, technical employment (from internships to full-time jobs) occurs long before graduation. Low-income high-potential students often do not fit the archetype of the “ideal candidate” sought by this hiring structure, which overvalues and rewards characteristics that are often a better indicator of excellence than talent or potential. How does this happen and how do we stop it?
If you ask hiring managers what skills may be necessary to succeed in the tech industry, they may say they are looking for new candidates:
- They have great problem solving skills.
- Demonstrate time management skills.
- working hard.
- They are flexible and willing to persevere in solving difficult problems.
These skills can come from many different experiences – for example, a student working a full-time or part-time job while pursuing a technical degree acquires a strong work ethic, time-management prowess and flexibility. A first-generation student who navigates the college experience on his own without the benefit of family knowledge or social networking is likely to gain impressive problem-solving skills. Although these skills are subjective, they are very valuable skills for success in technology.
However, in hiring practices, these demonstrated skills are rarely part of the equation and are overshadowed by things like:
- Signature high school experiences (including test preparation, high-quality counseling, and access to high-level math courses) that open doors to attending a reputable college/university, and the many opportunities and support that come with it.
- Money and financial time (i.e. not having to work for self-support or being able to work fewer hours) to participate in campus clubs and networks, attend hackathons, and/or attend conferences or networking events on weekends and evenings.
- Cash and knowledge up front needed to navigate your travels for an in-person job interview or transfer to an internship.
- Test scores, GPAs, and other quantitative measures strongly influenced by privilege, such as access to costly test preparation courses, careful pre-college math preparation, and most of all, the freedom to focus solely on academics given to those who don’t have to work to support themselves and their families.
- Awards and certifications based on many of the factors listed above, in addition to social capital.
In contrast to the first group, these criteria are considered signs of “potential”. However, achieving these marks requires a certain degree of privilege and affluence not available to most students. All these experiences take up time and energy that prevents one from caring for their family, the job that pays for their education and other important responsibilities outside the classroom. Many of these experiments require independent funds; Most of these experiences prefer extracurricular networking, prior knowledge, and preparatory privilege.
This is a huge missed opportunity with dire consequences. technology industry Must Separating attendance at events, awards, and where one went to school from their actual ability to succeed in the industry. They are not the same, and if we continue to fuse excellence with potential, we will fail to reach this community of high potential students, leaving us with an ongoing talent shortage and a less diverse technology sector.
How technology can be corrected to ensure that low-income students receive unique support throughout their exams complete technology trip?
Equal opportunity for low-income recruits
More than half of college students reported experiencing housing insecurity. To put it bluntly: Passing a computer science exam is tough when you can’t pay the rent, and completing a task is nearly impossible if you don’t have a fast internet connection.
To address these barriers (both new and old) we must understand them, and then invest in the resources that dismantle them.
First, support and invest in organizations that bridge these gaps for students from low-income backgrounds. Second, level the playing field for all new hires – If you’re a decision maker or HR representative at a tech company, make sure you provide all interns and new hires with door-to-door support for transition and setup.
Don’t assume students have family credit or financing to cover these costs up front and wait weeks for payment to be made. This allows candidates to appear as their best selves.
Invest in college students to invest in diversity
The tech sector tends to invest in starting the tech pipeline—companies focus 66% of their philanthropic funding on K-12 programs, compared to 3% on college-level programs.
Kindergarten through secondary education investments are important but they need to be pursued at the higher education level to get the talent we need. We must make sure that students complete their degrees (and support them throughout their journey to do so) – and that will deliver immediate returns in the form of ready-made tech talent and more diverse minds contributing to the tech innovations that lift us all.
What does this mean in practice? Here’s one example: If you hire a new employee who is still in their first year, cover the spring term. Invest in your future employees; Give them space to focus on the high-level final classes that will best prepare them for the job, rather than letting them worry about paying tuition, rent, and other expenses during those critical past few months.
The number of current students graduating with degrees in computing, and the technology sector as a whole, does not reflect our diverse society – not only in race and gender, but also in socioeconomic status. This is due to the technology industry continuous To combine excellence with capabilities.
The result is a homogeneous technology sector that creates critical technologies that do not serve everyone equally. It’s time to offer unique support and investment in low-income students through our entire technology pipeline.