Leveling the Educational Playing Field

This article originally appeared on act.org

Since ACT’s founding 60 years ago, we have always believed every student deserves a fair opportunity to be successful.

Ensuring education equity is at the core of our beliefs, and our mission as a nonprofit. Yet, despite our best efforts and those of many other advocates, disparities in access to higher education remain.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the immediate college enrollment rate for high school completers from high-income families is at a rate nearly 16 percentage points higher than for students from low-income families. These students are getting an earlier start on the post-secondary education and training that provides access to more secure and better paying jobs.

That’s why ACT has introduced new programs and resources for students who may be struggling to meet the cost of their educational pursuits and, more recently, introduced free, personalized learning tools to help students master what they need to know to be successful in college and career.

Investing in Student Success: ACT Fee Waiver Program and Expanded Support

ACT’s fee waiver program was designed as a first step to remove potential financial barriers for students pursuing postsecondary education. The ACT Board so believed this core to our mission, that in the May 8, 1962 meeting they issued a motion, saying that fee waivers should be emphasized, “in order to demonstrate ACT’s concern that the cost of the ACT tests not hinder any student from considering college.” The goal was to ensure that every student who needed a college-reportable score to show their academic readiness for college was able to get one, regardless of their ability to pay.

Fast forward to today, when more than 350,000 fee waivers per year* are used to take the ACT test. Hundreds of thousands of high school students participate annually in the ACT Fee Waiver Program, meaning that over the past decade ACT has provided fee waivers to millions of students (and more than 6 million fee waivers have been used since the 2008-2009 school year). Fee waivers cover the cost of two ACT tests, and enable students to send their score reports to up to six colleges during the registration process and order an additional 20 score reports for free after registration.

As the popularity of the fee waiver program has grown, ACT support has also grown. We now provide free access to test prep programs to give every student who receives a fee waiver access to high quality preparatory programming. These resources include ACT® Online Prep, ACT® Rapid Review™—All Access, and ACT Academy—an online learning platform designed to help all students pinpoint areas of academic weakness, improve their ACT scores, and master the core skills they need to prepare for success in high school, college and career.

Ensuring Equity is Core to the Mission

In June 2016, ACT doubled down on its mission with the launch of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, which is dedicated to closing gaps in equity, opportunity and achievement. The Center leverages ACT’s research expertise to highlight critical equity issues such as the digital divide, housing and food insecurity, and access to rigorous curriculum. The Center partners with a number of organizations to help students from underserved backgrounds prepare for post-secondary education and beyond. Earlier this year, the American College Application Campaign—a program operating in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. that serves more than 600,000 students and 7,000 schools nationwide—became part of the Center, strengthening our work to increase college-going for students from low-income families and those who are first-generation college-goers. Working with our network of local, state and national partners, we will continue to expand this successful program.

Empowering Advancement through Scholarship

Two weeks ago, ACT announced plans to again award a number of scholarships to help students afford the cost of a college education. This follows a scholarship award we presented last year in partnership with Univision, and a grand prize scholarship winner for our first national giveaway.

During the 2019-2020 school year, ACT will select 14 students to receive both a $15,000 scholarship and a $5,000 computer technology package to celebrate ACT’s national test dates, with half of the awards reserved for students from low-income families who use or are eligible for a fee waiver on the ACT test.

Helping Students Find Success

We are also pursuing new ways to reach the students who need us the most, through the My Success Campaign. The My Success social media campaign provides a community of support and lifelong learning resources for students, parents, counselors, and advocates alike. It also provides pertinent information about how to access the benefits of the ACT Fee Waiver Program.

Given our focus, we need your help to reach more students. We continue to work with school counselors and other advocates to spread the word about our programs, and encourage all eligible students to request and take advantage of fee waivers, but 28 percent of the more than 500,000 fee waivers we provide annually go unused. Please help us connect students with this valuable resource!

This fall, we are excited to see more than 2 million students continue their educational journey, becoming the first year class in 2- and 4-year colleges and universities across the U.S. We remain dedicated to helping these students—and particularly those who are creating a new tradition by being the first in their families to go to college—pursue their dreams and find success.

*During the 2017-2018 academic year, more than a half million (542,506) fee waivers were provided to low-income high school students across the nation. More than a fourth (28%) of these fee waivers were not used, suggesting that more than 150,000 eligible students missed out on taking the ACT for free.

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