Even high performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds miss out on some college opportunities – but mentorship programs can help
Recent work from IFS shows that students from disadvantaged backgrounds see some of the most significant financial benefits of continuing their education at university. But these students are also less likely to attend college than their better-off peers who get exactly the same grades. And, even among students with the same grades attending the same higher education program, those from disadvantaged backgrounds continue on average earn less.
Disadvantaged students face many additional barriers to accessing higher education and well-paying jobs, including a lack of information and role models; reduced access to social and professional networks it can help make the job easier; financial barriers that make it more difficult to spend three years studying rather than working full time or investing in an unpaid internship; and, potentially, discrimination by employers. These problems all predate the pandemic, but worsening educational and labor market inequalities over the past year suggest the situation is unlikely to have improved.
No intervention will be able to tackle such a broad set of obstacles. But new IFS research, published today in two reports, suggests that a combined program of mentoring, networking and hands-on support can help talented but disadvantaged young people gain access to top universities. This in turn could help these graduates to access high-level professional jobs.
Evaluation of the aspiring professional program
In this research, we are evaluating the Professional Aspiring Program (APP). This program, managed by the Social Mobility Foundation, aims to support talented but disadvantaged young people in their post-GCSE transition. The APP has four components: mentoring, advice on university applications, internships in professional industries and skills development workshops. Students who are expected to achieve at least ABB A-level grades apply for the program between the ages of 16 and 17. Participants then receive support throughout their training, up to a graduate job.
In our assessment, we compare the results of participants in the APP with the results of a matched comparison group of similar students. We select these similar students on the basis of a rich set of characteristics, such as their subjects and GCSE grades and their neighborhood disadvantage. Taking into account detailed information about students’ educational and social backgrounds, we aim to build a comparison group as similar as possible to APP participants; however, we cannot exclude that differences may remain in characteristics that are not included in our data, such as motivation or career aspirations.
Because the APP program is aimed at high performing young people – those who are expected to reach ABB or above at A level – our comparison group also performs very well. About 80% of the comparison students attended university.
Educational impacts of mentoring and support
Despite the high benchmark of university participation, participation in APP has had a major impact on students. For the 2009 cohort, participants in the APP were 18 percentage points more likely to pursue a university education. As the program grew and became less selective, its benefits diminished; even so, for the 2013 and 2014 cohorts (the latest cohorts we consider), APP participants were about 9 percentage points more likely to go to university.
Additionally, among students who attended college, APP participants were about 5 percentage points more likely to attend top Russell Group universities. This effect is similar to the existing inequality in eligibility for free school meals in Russell group participation among white students with at least three A grades at A level.
What does this mean for decision makers?
Decades of research on social mobility have made it clear that improving educational outcomes is extremely important to equalize access to universities and, eventually, to professional jobs. However, it is equally clear that education alone is not enough to solve all of the social mobility challenges that England faces.
This research supports the idea that mentoring is important for disadvantaged students. This is based on the evidence of Germany, the United States, and other countries that mentoring for disadvantaged students can support academic performance and help students work. While much of the existing evidence examines the role of mentoring in reducing crime and risky behavior, the APP instead shows that supporting high-performing youth can help these talented students reach their full potential.
While this research is based on the experiences of young people in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic (and only for those with a high level of previous level), it can also help today’s policymakers to reflect. how to respond to the current crisis. Our research complements existing data on tutoring (to help students catch up academically) with evidence on the role that mentoring (targeting a wider range of outcomes) can play in helping a high performing group of young people. but disadvantaged. Importantly, in our full report we also offer suggestions on how these interventions might be evaluated. Given the scale of the challenge that children and young people will face in the years to come, it is more important than ever to reflect on how programs and policies can best support young people on their journey to these ends. first school and labor market transitions.