The number of low-income students entering college is on the rise: According to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, the overall proportion of undergraduate college students from low-income families rose from 12% in 1996 to 20% in 2016. , only 11% of students in the bottom income quartile graduate within six years, compared to 58% for those in the top quartile.
This discrepancy should make you pause. Why do so many low-income students enter university but fail to graduate, thus failing to reach their full potential in the job market? A short answer covers the problem: a lack of unique and focused support and resources. And, especially in the tech sector, this lack of support stems from a troubled ecosystem that often presupposes privilege and prosperity among its students and prospective employees.
These assumptions (unknowingly or not) perpetuate a tech industry that is denied access to a critical and fertile talent pool by falsely and consistently disqualifying low-income students from the educational and career opportunities that open doors.
Obviously, the pipeline from technical education to career is leaving low-income students down before they graduate and gain entry into one of the highest paying sectors in our economy, but we’re not talking about it. Socioeconomic status should be part of the conversation about diversity – it’s underreported and under-talked about.
What does it mean to confuse privilege with potential?
As in many other industries, technology recruitment (from internships to full-time jobs) takes place well before graduation. High-potential, low-income students often don’t fit the “ideal candidate” archetype sought by this recruiting structure, which overestimates and rewards characteristics that are often a better indicator of privilege than talent or potential. How come and how can we stop it?
If you ask hiring managers what skills might be needed to succeed in the tech industry, they might say they’re looking for new candidates who:
- Have a great problem-solving ability.
- Time management skills have been demonstrated.
- Are hardworking.
- Are resilient and willing to persevere through tough problems.
- Are customizable.
These skills can come from many different experiences – for example, a student who has a full-time or part-time job while pursuing an engineering degree will gain a strong work ethic, time management ability and resilience. A first-generation student who independently navigates the college experience without the benefit of family knowledge or social networking is likely to acquire impressive problem-solving skills. While these are subjective, they are incredibly valuable skills to succeed in technology.
However, in recruiting practices, these demonstrated skills are rarely part of the equation and are unfairly overshadowed by things like:
- Privileged high school experiences (including exam prep, quality counseling, access to higher level math courses) that open doors to attending a prestigious college/university, and the many opportunities and support that come with it.
- The financial resources and time (i.e. not having to work to support themselves or to be able to work fewer hours) to participate in campus clubs and networks, attend hackathons and/or attend conferences or networking events on weekends and in the evening.
- The cash and knowledge needed to travel for an in-person interview or relocate for an internship.
- Test scores, GPA, and other quantitative measures heavily influenced by privilege, such as access to expensive test prep courses, rigorous college math prep, and most importantly, the freedom to focus solely on academics afforded to those who don’t have to work to support themselves and their families.
- Awards and recognitions were based on many of the above factors, as well as social capital.
Unlike the first set, these criteria are considered markers of ‘potential’. However, achieving these marks requires a degree of privilege and affluence that is unavailable to most students. All of these experiences take time and energy that prevents a person from providing for their family, from the job that pays for their education, and from other important responsibilities outside of the classroom. Many of these experiences require independent money; most of these experiences favor extracurricular networking, insider knowledge, and preparatory privilege.
This is a huge missed opportunity with serious consequences. The tech industry must disconnect attending events, awards, and where you went to school from your actual ability to succeed in the industry. They are not the same, and if we continue to confuse privilege with potential, we will not be able to access this community of high-potential students, leaving us with an ongoing talent shortage and a less diverse technology sector.
How can engineering course be corrected to ensure low-income students are uniquely supported throughout their career? whole technical journey?
Level playing field for low-income recruits
More than half of the students indicate that they experience housing insecurity. To put it bluntly, passing your computer science exam is difficult if you can’t afford your rent, and completing an assignment is nearly impossible if you don’t have a high-speed internet connection.
To address these barriers (both new and long-standing) we need to understand them and then invest in resources that remove them.
First, support and invest in organizations that are working to fill these gaps for low-income students. Second, ensure a level playing field for all new recruits – if you are a decision maker or HR representative at a technology company, make sure you provide all interns and new hires with door-to-door support for relocation and onboarding.
Don’t assume students have credit or family financing to cover these costs up front and wait weeks for a refund. This allows candidates to show their best side.
Invest in students to invest in diversity
The tech sector tends to invest early in the technology pipeline — companies focus 66% of their philanthropic funding on K-12 programs, compared to 3% on college-level programs.
Investments in primary and secondary education are important, but must continue at higher education levels to deliver the talent we need. We need to ensure students graduate (and support them in their journey to do so) – this will bring immediate returns in the form of ready tech talent and more diverse minds contributing to the technical innovations that will take us all to the next level. to lift.
What does this mean in practice? Here’s an example: If you’re hiring a new employee who is still in their senior year, cover the spring term. Invest in your future employees; give them space to focus on the final high-level classes that will better prepare them for work, rather than worrying about paying tuition, rent, and other expenses during those critical last few months.
The current population of students graduating with a computer degree, and the engineering sector as a whole, does not reflect our diverse society, not only in race and gender, but also in socioeconomic status.. And that’s because the tech industry continues to mix privilege with potential.
The result is a homogeneous technology sector that creates critical technologies that do not serve everyone equally. It’s a thing of the past to uniquely support low-income students and invest across the entire tech pipeline.