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Programs at Higher Education Institutions for Disadvantaged Precollege Students
NCES 96230
December 1995


One of the great changes in American society in the last 40 years has been the increased importance placed on education, and especially on higher education. From 1955 to 1995 (projected), college enrollment grew from 2.6 million to 14.9 million.1 This increase did not merely reflect an increase in the population, but also represented an increase in the proportion of high school graduates attending college: among those individuals ages 16 to 24 who graduated from high school during the preceding 12 months, the percentage enrolled in college increased from 45 percent in 1960 to 63 percent in 1993.2 These changes have important implications. It is commonly accepted that higher education is important both nationally, to ensure the Nation's productivity and economic competitiveness, and individually, with respect to a person's lifetime earnings: it is estimated that a 1992 high school graduate who completed college would earn $600,000 more over a lifetime than one with only a high school education.3

Yet the opportunity to attend college is not distributed equally throughout the population. For example, while 86 percent of unmarried 18- to 24-year-old high school graduates in the top family income quartile were either currently enrolled in college or had previously been enrolled, only 52 percent had been enrolled among those in the bottom income quartile.4 In fact, while college attendance overall is growing, the differences in college completion rates by age 24 based on family income are actually increasing and are "wider than they have ever been in the twenty-three years of available data."5 Many potential students face one or more economic or educational disadvantages: they may lack role models (especially in their own families) to demonstrate the importance of attending college, they may lack the financial resources required for higher education, and they may lack the academic knowledge and skills required for success in college.

The desire to see these prospective students have equal access to postsecondary education has led to a variety of programs that are designed to encourage disadvantaged students to attend college and to help them obtain the resources and academic skills they will need to be successful. Among the oldest are the TRIO programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education; now a group of six programs -- Upward Bound, Talent Search, Student Support Services, Educational Opportunity Centers, Training Program for Special Services Staff and Leadership Personnel, and the Ronald McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program -- they exist to help economically disadvantaged students by facilitating high school completion, entry, retention, and completion of postsecondary education, and entry into graduate study. Upward Bound, the largest of these programs in terms of funding, is directed at 13- to 19-years-old high school students whose family income is under 150 percent of the poverty level, and/or who are potential first-generation college students (with neither parent having a college degree).6 The Upward Bound program has grown in size from $28 million in 1967 to $162.5 million in 1994, and now serves roughly 42,000 precollegiate students. Upward Bound programs generally provide an intensive 6-week summer residential or nonresidential program at a college campus, along with continued academic and support services during the school year, typically on weekends or after school. All Upward Bound projects must provide instruction in mathematics, laboratory science, foreign language, English, and composition; additionally, they typically provide instruction in study skills, academic or personal counseling, exposure to cultural events, tutorial services, information on student financial assistance, and exposure to a range of career options.

A number of other precollegiate programs are like Upward Bound in the sense of being run by higher education institutions in partnership with schools or school districts, though they may differ in their funding, goals, and operations.7 Some of these programs receive outside support (e.g., through foundations), while others are internally funded; in either case, they may depend heavily on in-kind support. While Upward Bound has mandates that are specified in the federal legislation, these programs might be considered to have more flexibility (depending on the sponsor) and thus more diversity across programs. They often depend, at least initially, on the vision of one individual who first organizes the program, and their continued operation may depend either on that individual's continued work or on the ability of program staff to acquire a stable administrative and funding base within the institution.

Still other precollegiate programs also exist, including state scholarship programs and private programs. A privately sponsored program that has received great attention is the "I Have a Dream" program founded by Eugene Lang. It started in 1986 when Lang promised college educations to an entire class of Harlem sixth-graders, and since has expanded to more than 160 programs with 12,000 students.8 This program seeks to increase the motivation of selected groups of students by providing an early promise of financial support for attending college, while also providing support to these students as they prepare for college. Because these programs are not organized by higher education institutions, they can often differ greatly in their characteristics; for example, they may not be able to make use of the physical and personnel resources available in higher education institutions and may need to seek other strategies (such as operating in local schools or community organizations).

The purpose of this study is to provide a general description of precollegiate programs, noting those features that the programs tend to hold in common and those features where there is great diversity. Also, in coordination with a separate U.S. Department of Education evaluation of Upward Bound, a secondary purpose is to place Upward Bound programs within a larger context, to learn whether and how Upward Bound programs differed from other precollegiate programs, and to determine whether Upward Bound staff had something to learn from other programs.

If all precollegiate programs were included in this study, the diversity might be too great to allow meaningful comparisons. Instead, this study was intentionally focused in two ways. First, because of the longstanding federal concern with providing educational access for educationally or economically disadvantaged groups, those programs directed toward motivating such students to attend college and developing their academic skills to succeed in high school and prepare for college were examined. The disadvantaged students could start their participation either in elementary or secondary school . These programs remain highly diverse despite this focus. The programs may be sponsored by national or state governments, by individual colleges, by individual faculty or departments within a college, or by private individuals or foundations. They may take place during the academic year, during the summer, or both; they may be located close to the students, in their schools or neighborhoods, or they may involve bringing the students to college campuses; and they may focus on individual subject areas (such as mathematics and science), general academic skills, or even more general traits such as self-esteem.

Second, this study concentrated on precollegiate programs that are operated by higher education institutions, although the sponsor of the program might be outside the institution (such as the federal government or a private foundation); this focus helps to increase the comparability across programs, as well as the usefulness of study findings for making comparisons with Upward Bound. The data were collected by asking each school in a sample of higher education institutions to complete a three-page questionnaire about its largest precollegiate program.

Therefore, this study is not intended to describe the universe of all precollegiate programs at higher education institutions; rather, the focus on precollegiate programs for the disadvantaged is intended to result in more meaningful comparisons than would a study of programs with more dissimilar goals. The decision to focus on only the largest precollegiate program at each institution--defined in terms of the level of funding -- was made to simplify the task of higher education institutions in responding to the survey; in the pretest for the survey it was found that institutions have difficulty in identifying and comparing all their programs.

Except for these two focuses, the definition of precollegiate programs was made intentionally broad in order to capture the diversity of such programs. The programs might or might not include college-level instruction, but all are intended to prepare and motivate disadvantaged students for college. Programs such as those targeted exclusively toward minorities or women, adult literacy programs, or programs allowing high school students to enroll in college courses were excluded from the definition unless they were designed to increase college-enrollment rates among educationally or economically disadvantaged students, as were programs that were simply one-time events (such as attending a high school's college day or bringing students to a campus for a college weekend). Additional information about the sample and the implications for this study is provided in the section on the frequency of precollegiate programs and the section on survey methodology.

The following institutional characteristics were used as independent variables for analyzing the survey data:

  • Level: 2-year, 4-year (including graduate level). Two-year institutions are defined as institutions at which the highest level of offering is at least 2 but less than 4 years (below the baccalaureate degree); 4-year institutions are those at which the highest level of offering is 4 or more years (baccalaureate or higher degree).9
  • Control: public, private. Private comprises private nonprofit and private for-profit institutions; these private institutions are reported together because there are too few private for-profit institutions to report them as a separate category.
  • Region: Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West, based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) definitions of region. The states in each region are as follows:

    Northeast: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

    Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

    Central: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

    West: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

  • Size of institution: less than 3,000 students (small), 3,000 to 9,999 students (medium), and 10,000 or more students (large).

Additionally, because one of the purposes of the study was to compare the U.S. Department of Education's Upward Bound program with other precollegiate programs, the study frequently differentiates between the largest precollegiate programs in both those categories.10 The survey was conducted in fall 1994 by the National Center for Education Statistics using the Postsecondary Education Quick Information System (PEQIS). PEQIS is designed to quickly collect limited amounts of policy-relevant information from a previously recruited, nationally representative sample of postsecondary institutions. PEQIS surveys are generally limited to two to three pages of questions with a response burden of 30 minutes per respondent.11 The survey was mailed to the PEQIS survey coordinators at 852 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions.12 Coordinators were told that the survey was designed to be completed by the person or office that had the most information about the institution's largest precollegiate program. The unweighted survey response rate is 96 percent (the weighted survey response rate is 97 percent). Data were adjusted for questionnaire nonresponse and weighted to provide national estimates. The section of this report on survey methodology and data reliability provides a more detailed discussion of the sample and survey methodology. The survey questionnaire is reproduced in appendix B.

All specific statements of comparison made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests and t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level or better. However, not all statistically different comparisons have been presented, since some were not of substantive importance.

1 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1994 (Washington, DC: 1993), 152.

2 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 1994 (Washington, DC: 1994), 188.

3 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Educational Attainment in the U.S.: 1993 & 1992.

4 Thomas G. Mortenson. "Family Income Backgrounds Continue to Determine Chances for Baccalaureate Degree in 1992." Postsecondary Education Opportunity 16 (Sept. 1993),

5 Ibid., 7.

6 Two-thirds of the students in each project must be both low income and first generation.

7 Detailed descriptions of many such programs are provided in Reaching for College, a two-volume report prepared by Westat, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Education, December 1992.

8 Washington Post, June 25, 1995, p. A16.

9 Definitions for level are from the data file documentation for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Institutional Characteristics file, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

10 Upward Bound programs were identified through an item on the questionnaire where institutions wrote the name of the largest precollegiate programs.

11 Additional information about PEQIS is presented in the methodology section of this report.

12 Higher education institutions are institutions accredited at the college level by an agency recognized by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, and are a subset of all postsecondary education institutions. Other postsecondary institutions were excluded from the sample because the focus of precollegiate programs is to increase students' access to higher education. Postsecondary education is the provision of a formal instructional program whose curriculum is designed primarily for students beyond the compulsory age for high school. This includes programs whose purpose is academic, vocational, and continuing professional education, and excludes avocational and adult basic education. (U.S Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, S. Broyles, and P. Vanderhorst. Integrated Postsecondary Data System Glossary (Washington, DC: 1992). NCES 92-081.)



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