The homework gap is the “cruelest part of the digital divide”. This declaration by former FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel reflects the biggest focus of technology in education – to eradicate the gap in opportunities for academic success between students who have internet access and those who do not. This emphasis on eradicating the homework gap is absolutely justified, because when all other factors are considered, computer access is shown to improve graduation rates for high school students by 6-8%. However, it is important to remember that education technology (hereafter edtech) has the potential to transform students’ educational and life trajectories even beyond the high school level.
Having access to the internet and to edtech resources has the ability to greatly improve a student’s chances of getting admitted to an institution of higher learning. Apart from the social benefits, attaining a college degree is particularly important for low-income families because college graduates earn an average of 56% more than high school graduates over a lifetime. One of the most important aspects of the college admissions process is standardized test scores, as highlighted by the fact that 83% of applicants accepted to a top university like Harvard used SAT scores in their applications. Furthermore, for low-income families, standardized test scores can open the doors to afford more prestigious institutions of higher education. At universities that offer merit-based scholarships, test scores are used as an important criterion in determining how large a scholarship to award to prospective students. According to the Princeton Review, students who excel on standardized tests receive merit scholarships up to $20,000 at many top colleges across the country. On top of that, a moderate improvement of 100 points on the SATs can lead to an $8000 increase in scholarship funding over the course of a student’s college experience. For low-income families, this can mean the difference between being able to afford college for their children or otherwise.
Given the significance of standard testing in determining the educational outcomes for low income families, it is comforting to know that there are myriad resources available on the internet to give low income students the best chance of success in the college admissions process. Recognizing that the culture and practice of high-priced test preparation have the potential to drive inequality, the College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free, world-class online practice tools for all students. A recent study showed that students who used Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy to prepare for the test have shown average score gains of 115 points after studying for just 20 hours. Additionally, any income-eligible student who takes the SAT with a fee waiver is eligible to receive four college application fee waivers electronically from the College Board, which can help make the college admissions process more affordable. The internet, and the resources it provides, can be a gateway to lifting low-income families out of poverty by making college education a possibility. It is up to us as ConnectHome Nation stakeholders to ensure that we put the internet in their hands.