Closing the Excellence Gap

America counts 3.4 million high-ability, low-income students in grades K-12.

The Excellence Gap refers to the disparity in the number of these high ability lower-income students who reach advanced levels of academic performance — including college attendance and completion — compared to their higher-income peers.

This “gap” appears in elementary school and continues as students move through middle school, high school, college and beyond.

We know that America’s very smart, low-income kids increasingly fall to the margins as they progress through school, and far too many are discouraged from pursuing a college degree, especially at one of our select colleges and universities.

Despite scoring in the top quartile academically, students from the bottom economic quartile:

  • Experience far less academically enriched experiences in high school.
  • One in four (23%) do not take the SAT or ACT exam.
  • Half (56%) do not apply for federal financial aid through the FAFSA.
  • Less than half (49%) took at least one Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course (compared with 71%).
  • Only a third (30%) participated in an academic honor society (versus 51%).
  • Most discouraging — nearly one fourth of all high-performing, low-income students never even apply to college.


Jack Kent Cooke Foundation At A Glance

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students with financial need through the largest scholarships in the nation and innovative grantmaking. Since our founding in 2000, the Cooke Foundation has awarded about $147 million in scholarships to more than 2,000 students, complimented with personalized advising and other support services from eighth grade to graduate school. The Cooke Foundation also provides significant grants for noteworthy initiatives that support high-performing, low-income students. Through these efforts, we seek to close the Excellence Gap.

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