The number of low-income college students is on the rise: According to a Pew Research Center survey from 2016, the total percentage of undergraduate college students from low-income homes climbed from 12% in 1996 to 20% in 2016. Only 11% of students in the lowest economic quartile complete their degrees in six years, compared to 58 percent of students in the top quartile. This disparity should cause you to think twice. Why are so many low-income students enrolling in college but not completing their degrees, and consequently failing to attain their full potential in the workforce?
The problem may sum up in one word: a lack of distinct and specialized help and resources. This lack of assistance derives from a dysfunctional environment that frequently presupposes privilege and prosperity in its students and potential workers, particularly in the tech industry.
These beliefs (conscious or unconscious) sustain a digital sector that is unable to access a key and fertile talent pool by incorrectly and routinely excluding low-income individuals from educational and professional prospects. It’s obvious that the tech education-to-career pipeline fails low-income students before they complete their degrees and enter one of our economy’s highest-paying sectors –– but we’re not talking about it. The discourse about “diversity” must include socioeconomic status, which is underreported and under-discussed.
Tech recruiting (from internships to full-time positions) begins far before graduation, as it does in many other businesses. The “ideal candidate” typology sought by this recruiting framework, which overvalues and rewards attributes that are typically a stronger sign of status than skill or potential, frequently does not match high-potential low-income pupils. What causes this, and how can we prevent it? If you ask recruiting managers what skills are needed to thrive in the tech business, they could respond they are searching for fresh applicants who:
- Have excellent problem-solving abilities
- Have proven the ability to manage time
- Are dedicated to their task
- Are tenacious and willing to endure in the face of adversity
- Are adaptive in their approach
These abilities may be gained via a variety of situations; for example, a student working full- or part-time while pursuing a technical degree develops a strong work ethic, time management skills, and resilience. Without the benefit of family knowledge or social networks, a first-generation student navigating the college experience on their own is likely to develop exceptional problem-solving abilities. Although these are subjective, they are extremely important abilities for success in the computer industry. These demonstrable talents, on the other hand, are seldom considered in recruiting methods, and inequitably eclipsed by factors such as:
- Privileged high school experiences (such as test prep, high-quality advice, and access to higher-level math classes) that pave the way for admission to a prominent college or institution, as well as the numerous chances and resources that come with it
- The financial means and time (i.e., not needing to work to support oneself or working less hours) to engage in university clubs and networks, hackathons, and/or attend conferences or networking events on weekends and nights
- The funds and expertise required to travel for a face-to-face job interview or relocate for an internship.
- Test scores, GPA, and other quantitative measures that are heavily influenced by privilege, such as access to expensive test prep courses, rigorous math preparation prior to college, and, most importantly, the freedom to focus solely on academics afforded to those who do not have to work to support themselves and their families, heavily influenced by privilege.
- Many of the above variables, as well as social capital, are used to determine awards and recognitions.
Unlike the preceding group, these characteristics are regarded as “possible” indicators. However, achieving these benchmarks necessitates a level of privilege and money that most kids lack. All of these activities require time and energy away from one’s family, the employment that pays for their school, and other crucial duties outside of the classroom.
Many of these opportunities need separate funding; the majority of these opportunities favor extracurricular networks, prior knowledge, and privilege. This is a huge wasted opportunity with potentially disastrous implications. The IT business must separate event attendance, accolades, and one’s the educational background from one’s ability to flourish in the field. They are not synonymous, and if we continue to mix privilege with potential, we will be unable to access this pool of high-potential pupils, resulting in a talent scarcity and a less diverse tech sector.