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ERIC Identifier: ED284518
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Richardson, Richard C., Jr. - Bender, Louis W.
Source: Association for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.

Students in Urban Settings: Achieving the Baccalaureate Degree. ERIC Digest.

The public policy which undergirds American higher education is directed toward the ideal of equality and equity of educational opportunity. An array of institutions having significantly different missions and program emphases have been established in response to that public policy. An implicit assumption is that students who begin in an open access institution will, if successful, be able to move to other institutions providing different and more advanced opportunities. Many studies of efforts to achieve articulation between quite different institutions have been carried out over the years, but inadequate attention has been given to urban areas where the greatest challenge to the goal of equality of opportunity exists. Simply stated, more poor people, more minorities, and more immigrants live in cities where the college age population is still less than half as likely to enroll in college as their suburban counterparts.


The demographic profile of American children now entering public schools makes it clear that the problems for urban colleges and universities will grow in magnitude in the years ahead. One illuminating study documents the shift in the ethnic composition of Americans which has been caused by the fact that birthrate among whites has decreased over the last two decades while birthrates among minorities have remained the same or increased. The white percentage of total population dropped from 87.4% in 1970 to 83.2% in 1980. Blacks now represent 12% of the total population and will increase their percentage in the years ahead. The fastest growing minority, however, is made up of persons of Hispanic origin. The trend of increasing birthrate among minority groups is of special significance for the urban areas where 54.2% of all black children in this nation live and where the Hispanic minorites are disproportionately located.

There is a correlation between income and education achievement. Low income students do not achieve as well, persist as long, or complete programs of study in the same proportion as students from middle and upper income groups. Students in the latter group typically have the advantages of greater encouragement and support at home, and attendance at better schools, which offer more academic preparation and instill in students the cultural expectation of a collegiate education.


Responsibility for the higher education needs of the inner-city population has fallen primarily to the public urban universities and community colleges. Both of these types of learning titutions are tied organically to their cities, and share the problems of the urban environment. Both must deal with such conditions as student poverty, high attrition, school system failures, and limited institutional funding. An examination of the working relationship between public urban universities and community colleges reveals such similar institutional problems as confused missions, overvaluation of traditional ways at the expense of local community needs, undervaluation of institutional cooperation, and failure to communicate.

Urban community colleges do confront enormous problems, and they are the only alternative for most of the students they serve. They have placed considerable emphasis on establishing a supportive environment for minority students, and they have demonstrated a significant advantage in providing underprepared students with the time and support they need to remedy academic deficiencies. The preponderance of evidence suggests that students who complete the two-year academic transfer programs at the community college perform reasonably well after they transfer. Yet a critical view of colleges serving minorities in one city grew out of a recent study which found that the inner-city community colleges tended to emphasize remedial and vocational programs while offering only a semblance of transfer education. Furthermore, the actual academic course offerings were found to be narrower and more limited in the city colleges than in their suburban counterparts.

Urban universities have missions, purposes, and emphases as diverse as those of urban community colleges. There is a consistent emphasis on the economic development of the urban area involved as well as a significant commitment to professional and technical programs, as contrasted to a de-emphasis of undergraduate arts and sciences. These universities reflect their location by providing programs that serve the basic education needs of placebound and traditionally underrepresented clienteles, but typically see these activities as detrimental to their image as research institutions. While urban community colleges and universities recognize the importance of the transfer student, there has not been a joint effort by the two institutions to make the transfer process systematic and orderly. In several cities, universities and community colleges compete for the better prepared high school graduates.


Larger numbers of urban minorities turn to the community college rather than the university as their point of access to higher education. At the same time, they come with severe academic deficiencies, ranging from basic skills deficits to limited or inadequate math and science backgrounds. Their aspirations for baccalaureate degrees are not much different from the aspirations of their counterparts in suburban colleges. Yet because of their educational background, they are more likely to be advised to enter a vocational program than a transfer program. Concurrently, the transfer function of many community colleges, including those in urban areas, appears endangered.

Questions of the effectiveness of community college transfer programs as well as attrition patterns for students may need to be reexamined on the basis of a recent longitudinal study of the City University of New York. In that study, open admissions students graduated at a rate of 16% after four years, another 16% after five years, and an additional 11% after eleven years, producing a total graduation rate of 43%. Perhaps the most important observation involves the persistence and courage observed among those who managed to balance their problems and challenges for as long as 11 years in their quest for a degree. Clearly, research on attrition needs to be redesigned to accommodate longer time frames than those used in the past to assess the performance of traditional, full-time students.


Policies and activities identified as enhancing transfer of community college students include: 1) university scholarships for transfer students; 2) reserved dorm space for mid-year transfers; 3) coordination of veteran's benefits; 4) joint faculty events and counseling exchanges; and 5) dual enrollment, in which a transfer student is paired with a peer for easier acclimatization at no greater cost than single enrollment. Inevitably, when transfer success occurs, a strong articulation agreement is both present and honored.

Some of the strategies being implemented in urban community colleges include offering (1) university courses on community college campuses, (2) concurrent enrollment at both universities and community colleges, (3) improved orientation programs, (4) peer counselors, mentors, special courses, and outside speakers as role models who assist students in defining career objectives and developing educational plans designed for the students' achievement.

It will take time to deal with issues related to the quality of urban secondary schools and the socioeconomic status of those who attend them. The existence of problems that lie beyond the immediate influence of community colleges and universities should not, however, be used as a rationale for avoiding institutional action. As in most areas of human endeavor, we know more about improving opportunities for urban minorities than we are currently using. Colleges and universities with a strong commitment to promoting equal educational opportunity have the means at their disposal to improve outcomes over those currently being achieved.


Breyer, C.A. "2 + 2 Still Adds up to 4 in Florida." COMMUNITY AND JUNIOR COLLEGE JOURNAL 52(8) 1982: 18-21.



Feistritzer, C. Emily. CHEATING OUR CHILDREN: WHY WE NEED REFORM. Edited by Warren Rogers and Lawrence M. O'Rourke. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Information, 1985.

Institute for the Study of Educational Policy. MINORITIES IN TWO-YEAR COLLEGES: A REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHANGE. Washington, DC: Howard University, 1980. ED 194 647.

Lavin, David E., James Murtha, and Barry Kaufman. LONG-TERM GRADUATION RATES OF STUDENTS AT THE CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK. New York: CUNY, Office of Institutional Research and Analysis, 1984. ED 247 858.

Orfield, G., and others. THE CHICAGO STUDY OF ACCESS AND CHOICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION. Chicago: University of Chicago, Committee on Public Policy Studies Research Project, 1984. ED 248 929.

Richardson, Richard C., Jr., E.C. Fisk, and M.A. Okun. LITERACY IN THE OPEN ACCESS COLLEGE. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1983.

Rudnick, Andrew J. THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN THE URBAN CONTEXT: A STATUS REPORT AND CALL FOR LEADERSHIP. Edited by Nevin Brown. Washington, DC: National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1983.

Schaier-Pelleg, D., ed. NEW INITIATIVES FOR TRANSFER STUDENTS. New York: Networks in Cooperation with the Ford Foundation, 1984.

Smartt, S.H. URBAN UNIVERSITIES IN THE 80S: ISSUES IN STATEWIDE PLANNING. Atlanta: Southern Regional Education Board, 1981. ED 202 407.

Wilson, R., and S.E. Melandez. MINORITIES IN HIGHER EDUCATION: THIRD ANNUAL STATUS REPORT. Washington, DC: American Council on Education, 1984.


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