ERIC Identifier: ED448244
Publication Date: 2000-11-00
Author: Oesterreich, Heather
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
Characteristics of Effective Urban College Preparation
Programs. ERIC Digest Number 159.
College preparation programs for minority youth living in low- income
neighborhoods help them develop the skills, knowledge, confidence, and
aspirations they need to enroll in higher education. Over time, the strategies
for expanding the college access, attendance, and graduation rates of these
youth have grown in complexity, as have the funding sources, which are now a
mesh of support from the Federal and state governments, organizations, and
colleges and universities. Although, both in extent of a program's services and
in duration, long- term investments in students have a stronger impact than
short-term interventions (Gandara & Maxwell-Jolly, 1999), program strategies
leading to student success differ, based on the interests, needs, and resources
of the student's local communities. Nevertheless, certain approaches have been
proven effective in a variety of situations and can easily be customized for
local contexts. This digest reviews these general approaches to help developers
maximize the benefits which students derive from programs.
Range of Services
Pre-college programs that offer comprehensive approaches and combine a
variety of services have the largest impact on college access for minority youth
in low-income neighborhoods. Traditionally, however, programs have tended to
focus on a specific type of service because of time, expertise, and funding
constraints. Some programs, for example, specialize in test preparation
(Princeton Review), counseling and academics (Liberty Partnerships Program),
enrichment in a specialized subject (MESA), or learning based on cultural
integrity (Neighborhood Academic Initiative). Others concentrate on providing a
better education in general through systemic school change (Frederick Douglass
Academy). Still others function only as supplemental school resource centers.
The most effective college preparation programs are of substantial duration
and focus on "readiness" rather than "re-mediation" (Fenske, Geranios, Keller,
& Moore, 1997). They begin offering students services and information about
college and financial aid as early as possible, certainly in time to influence
the educational outcomes for the students. Most Federal and state programs
require services to begin no later than the seventh grade and to continue
through the twelfth grade, although challenges associated with inequitable
academic preparation exist as early as the fourth grade (Nettles & Perna,
1997). Programs such as I Have A Dream (IHAD) start as early as the third grade.
The key element of a college preparation program is its ability to provide
students with the information and experiences necessary for post-secondary
attainment. An effective program uses a wide variety of teaching strategies to
offer students different types of relevant experiences and to ensure learning,
including the following: direct teaching in a variety of content areas, summer
enrichment programs, individual and group counseling, tutoring, college visits
and courses, peer and adult mentoring, and motivational speakers.
TYPES OF SUPPORT
Effective programs provide students with rich academic content as well as
other support to promote their intellectual development (Fashola & Slavin,
* Pipeline Courses. These include algebra, geometry, calculus, biology,
chemistry, and physics so that students gain the knowledge necessary for
standardized testing; a transcript for a well-rounded, competitive college
application; and the skills to succeed in college courses. Close monitoring of
students' selection and successful completion of the courses should begin as
early as junior high school.
* Study Skills. Students need to master strategies to excel in these pipeline
courses. Workshops and courses teach how to take notes, study, and complete
homework assignments. Supportive networks, such as peer study groups and
one-on-one tutoring, provide additional learning opportunities. Supplemental
coursework adapted to students' particular learning needs augments existing
* Test Preparation. Many students are now required to negotiate high school,
college, state, and nationally-developed high stakes tests to ensure admittance
to higher education. Thus, the most useful college preparation programs offer
courses or workshops that focus exclusively on students' preparation for each
* High Expectations. Finally, students in college preparation programs for
minority youth in low-income neighborhoods, traditionally stigmatized as
"at-risk," should be viewed as highly talented individuals who can achieve their
goals. Thus, programs for them should be geared toward learning and achieving,
and provide students with encouragement, understanding, and structural support.
* Parent Involvement. It has long been assumed that parent involvement is
critical to program success and student achievement (Jun & Tierney, 1999).
Horn and Chen (1998), for example, found that students whose parents discussed
education goals with them went farther in post-secondary institutions than those
who did not. Some programs, therefore, require parents to sign contracts
agreeing to support their children's attendance, assist with homework, and
follow through on necessary paperwork for college admission and financial aid.
Programs may also invite parents to nonacademic performances or ask for
assistance in raising funds or providing supplies.
* Peer Support. The strongest social support strategy used by programs is the
fostering of student community through opportunities for interaction in academic
and nonacademic activities. Study groups provide a space for peer tutoring as
well as encouragement in academic aspirations (Gandara & Maxwell-Jolly,
1999). Networking students who have graduated from the program and are currently
enrolled in four-year institutions with program participants provides another
important level of peer support.
* Cultural Affirmation. For minority students from low-income neighborhoods,
success in school and college aspirations are often equated with a rejection of
their identity and background (Deyhle, 1995). To prevent such an identity
problem, programs use students' cultures and backgrounds--race, class, and
gender--in a positive manner in their curricula, teaching methods, and learning
activities (Jun & Tierney, 1999).
* Community Involvement. Mentors, role models, community leaders, and
speakers motivate students and raise their self-esteem, expectations, and sense
of accountability. They help students realize that their college attendance is
part of a community pattern, preceded by earlier college graduates and to be
followed by others heeding their example.
* Funding. Socioeconomic status is the greatest determinant of enrollment and
persistence in college for all students. Financial resources not only affect a
student's decision to attend college but also impact on the amount of time
available for study after enrollment (Gandara & Maxwell-Jolly, 1999).
Ideally, therefore, programs include direct financial aid such as full or
partial scholarships, stipends for attendance, or book grants (Perna &
Swail, in press).
* Aid Application Process. Filling out financial aid packets and meeting
deadlines for scholarships, loans, and grants are crucial for securing necessary
funding for college. Simply making forms available and deadlines explicit is
important, but programs which help families negotiate the mass of paperwork,
including reproducing tax forms and preparing applications for the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Pell Grants, and scholarships tend
to secure more funding for students.
* Resource Procurement. Staff members of effective programs also actively
seek additional avenues for student financial support. They explore sources such
as local community grants, professional organizations, corporate sponsorships,
and endowed private scholarships.
for Success in the College Climate
* Admissions Process. Programs facilitate the admissions process for students
by providing information about how to get into a college and how to assess
whether a college is a good match culturally and financially. Successful
programs teach students how to look critically at a university's student body
and policies to determine its cultural milieu and how to ask tough questions
about retention rates, financial aid, and the climate.
* College Visits. Opportunities for students to participate in university
life, programs, and resources are essential elements of college preparation
programs (Fenske et al., 1997). Programs partnered with universities or colleges
can offer summer enrichment programs enabling students to live and study on
campus. College classrooms can be the site of an after-school program, a test
preparation module, or an enrichment course. Students can utilize computer
rooms, the library, and sports/exercise equipment on campus. Programs that
cannot directly use higher education facilities can take students on college
trips and to local college fairs and recruitment presentations.
* Social and Cultural Capital. Student differences in social and cultural
capital create differences in college enrollment, retention, and graduation
rates (McDonough, 1997). Social capital for students preparing for college is
the availability of information-sharing networks about college and financial
aid. Cultural capital is the value placed on obtaining a college education, and
the information available about the means of acquiring one (McDonough, 1997).
Effective programs create this capital by teaching social norms, values, and
expected behaviors necessary for college admittance and persistence.
* Social Critique. In a society where inequities in college access still
reflect racism, classism, and sexism, it is useful to assist students in
understanding the realities of the social and economic stratification that
impacts on college admittance. Students can be given opportunities not only to
critique social structures, but also to be active agents in the fight against
The staff of a pre-college program is
essential to its success. Effective programs provide staff members with
continuous, in-depth professional development to keep them up-to-date on the
following: high school-to-college transition issues, which are changing more
rapidly than previously; high school graduation requirements; college admissions
requirements; re-mediation policies; and student re-mediation options. Inservice
training should also provide instruction in culturally responsive curricular and
teaching strategies that are effective with their particular students (Knight & Oesterreich, in press).
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Nettles, M.T., & Perna, L.W. (1997). The African American education data
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