We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom: “He’s just not ready for that college. If he went now, he would fail – he can’t cut it there.” This is often followed by giving advice to students with so-so grades to set their sights lower and head to a two-year community college rather than going straight to a four-year university.

Two recent studies challenge this thinking, looking specifically at students that are right on the cusp of eligibility for four-year schools. One found that roughly half of the students in Georgia who had cleared the admissions bar and went to a four-year school went on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with only 17 percent of those who just narrowly missed the cutoff and were directed to less selective community colleges.

The benefits were concentrated among lower-income students. This is in line with other research finding that students do better when they stretch themselves and go for the most selective school where they get admitted. Maybe what we should be advising students is: “You are capable of more than you know.”

From the New York Times

College for the Masses

By David Leonhardt