A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined the charities working primarily in the U.S. was in 2010. As of 2011, we have de-prioritized further work on this cause.

The content we created in 2007 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about the organization and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions.

In a nutshell

What do they do? The LEDA Scholars Program is a college preparatory program serving economically disadvantaged high school students. The program consists of a full-time, seven-week summer program (following 11th grade) and college advising and assistance during 12th grade. Applicants to LEDA's program undergo a rigorous application process that includes academic evaluation, multiple recommendations, and an interview.

Does it work? We aren't confident that LEDA is significantly impacting its students, i.e., causing them to perform better than they would without its help. The only empirical study we have access to is highly ambiguous. It follows a group of LEDA scholars as well as a group of students who were rejected from the program in the final round, and finds that the former matriculated more frequently (and to more selective schools); but we believe that those who gain acceptance into the program are likely much better off to begin with than those who are rejected, and it is not intuitively or empirically clear to us that LEDA is adding significantly to these already accomplished students' opportunities.

The details

What do they do?

Applicants to LEDA's program undergo a highly selective application process; those who are selected go through LEDA's full-time, seven-week summer program (following 11th grade) and receive college advising and assistance during 12th grade.

Recruitment and selection of scholars

LEDA targets students from minority (African-American, Latino, and Native American) backgrounds (Attachment A-2 Pg 1) and those who come from relatively low-income families (families of the first LEDA cohort had an average income of $40,000 per year, as stated in Attachment B-9). Over the 4 year history of the program, LEDA has served 250 students, 120 of whom have come from New York City (Attachment A-2 Pg 1).

Applicants to LEDA participate in a rigorous application process, which assesses students' academic records (grades and difficulty of courses taken), writing ability (through one essay prepared specifically for LEDA and three additional writing samples), four recommendations, and interviews with applicants and their parents (Attachment A-2 Pg 1-2).

The program

In the summer preceding scholars' senior year of high school, LEDA holds a seven-week program at Princeton University. The program consists largely of college-style academic work that aims to prepare scholars academically and socially for college (Attachment A-2 Pg 3). In addition, the program offers student-specific guidance to help scholars prepare for the college application process (Attachment A-2 Pg 3).

During students' senior year of high school, LEDA provides college admissions assistance, including help navigating the financial aid process (Attachment A-2 Pg 3) and direct advocacy of scholars to admissions and financial aid officers (Attachment A-2 Pg 3).

Does it work?

Because LEDA has a selective admissions process, we believe its scholars may be students who are already positioned to succeed in the college admissions process; the question is how much better they do with LEDA's help than they would without it. We have little to go on, either intuitively or empirically, to answer this question.

LEDA provided us with a study (Attachment B-1) that attempts to gauge impact by following both the students who went through its program and a "control group" comprised of students who were denied admission in the final stage of the process. The former group enrolled more frequently in college (and at more selective schools) than the latter:

Comparison LEDA scholars Control group
% in college 96% 93%
% in selective college (Top 145 schools acc. to Kahlenberg, 2004) 95% 26%
% in Ivy League schools 41% 2%

If these two groups had been largely similar to begin with (i.e., prior to their interaction with LEDA), such a difference might imply that LEDA had a positive impact. However, we believe that the two groups are not comparable: LEDA scholars were significantly more academically accomplished than control group students, before ever enrolling in LEDA's program. The table below illustrates this by comparing background characteristics of LEDA scholars and the control group.

Comparison LEDA scholars Control group
SAT 1252 1137
PSAT (SAT equivalent scale) 1214 1067
Rank 8 17
Rank % 2.8% 6.2%
Family income $40,084 $43,884

LEDA scholars had noticeably higher SAT and PSAT scores, and higher class rank. These differences almost certainly cannot be attributed to the LEDA program's effects: students take the PSAT in the fall of their junior year of high school, and the difference between LEDA scholars and the control group is noticeable by this measure.

We find it highly plausible that the superior performance of the LEDA students in question (shown in the first table) was a function of their background characteristics (shown in the second table), and not of the LEDA program itself.

Conclusion

Although LEDA's scholars are successful in gaining admission to selective colleges, we are not confident that much of this success can be attributed to LEDA, as opposed to scholars' existing academic credentials. We would need to see a more compelling empirical case in order to consider this program a proven way of helping disadvantaged students.

Attachments:

A. Application and response

B. Program related attachments

  • Attachment B-1: “Affirmative/Quantifiable Action?” – Collins 2007
  • Attachment B-2: Hispanic Initiative Evaluation (Liza's Study)
  • Attachment B-3: Admitted Students' schools, zip codes, gender, ethnicity, and income 2004/05 (No Names)
  • Attachment B-4: Admitted Students' schools, zip codes, gender, ethnicity, and income 2005/06 (No Names)
  • Attachment B-5: Liza's Study: Control Group Final Graphs
  • Attachment B-6: Liza's Study: Control Group Admissions Information (No Names)
  • Attachment B-7: Liza's Study: LEDA's Latino Students' Admissions Information (No Names)
  • Attachment B-8: List of LEDA Scholars Current College Enrollment (By School)
  • Attachment B-9: 1st LEDA Cohort's Performance Data (SAT, GPA etc.) And College Attended (No Names)
  • Attachment B-10: Percentage of 1st Cohort With Family Income > and Attachment B-11: Number of 1st Cohort Families In Each Income Quintile
  • Attachment B-12: Percentage of 2nd Cohort With Family Income > and Attachment B-13: Number of 2nd Cohort Families In Each Income Quintile
  • Attachment B-14: Number of 1st Cohort Students Eligible for Free Lunch Program
  • Attachment B-15: Number of 2nd Cohort Students Eligible for Free Lunch Program
  • Attachment B-16: Number of 1st Cohort Students Eligible for Reduced Lunch Program
  • Attachment B-17: Number of 2nd Cohort Students Eligible for Reduced Lunch Program
  • Attachment B-18: Description of LEDA's Recruitment Process
  • Attachment B-19: SAT Composites-#s 3-19-07 [Note: student names removed.]
  • Attachment B-20: Comma Delimited Student Performance Data in 2006 (No Names)
  • Attachment B-21: Comma Delimited Student Performance Data in 2007 (No Names)
  • Attachment B-22: Comma Delimited Student Performance Data in 2008 (No Names)

C. Organization related attachments

D. Financial related attachments