One of the interesting takeaways from the Equality of Opportunity Project is that elite universities tend to accept fewer students from the bottom 20% than any other quintile. Although this information might be informative, it is not particularly useful. It is much more import to answer the question of ‘Why?’. There are many plausible explanations for this phenomenon. A few possibilities are: Students from the lowest 20% tend to have lower GPAs and score lower on standardized test, they tend to be less involved in their schools and communities, they are unable to visit universities to ‘demonstrate interest’, universities are reluctant to accept a student who could not pay, colleges are looking for students with high-income potential and the largest predictor of income is your parents income, students don’t apply to elite universities because they believe they cannot afford it, students don’t apply to elite universities because they assume they won’t get in, etc.
Most likely the answer is some weighted combination of many different reasons and will never be precisely pinned down. However if we could narrow down the possibilities, we could draw a conclusion about possible solutions to this inequality problem. For instance, data on low-income students performance in high school and on standardized tests should be easily accessible. While I don’t believe low-income student perform worse on average, it would be insightful to rule it out quickly. Also if a data set were collected comparing the number of applicants in each quintile to those accepted in each quintile, it would be obvious if the issue stems from a lack of low-income students applying or from a lack of university acceptance. Only knowing which of these two is at fault would massively narrow down the possible causes.