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Increasing Access to College (book review)

Tomorrow's Academy

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Most illuminating in this section is the description of a college readiness program at University of California, Los Angeles that concentrated on taking tenth-grade students into an intensive social research project.


The posting below is a review by Laura Saunders of the book, Increasing Access to College: Extending Possibilities for all Students, edited by William G. Tierney and Linda Serra Hagedorn and published by State University of New York Press. ISBN: 0791453642 It appeared in the September-November, 2005, of Planning for Higher Education. 34(1): 42-43 (


Rick Reis


Tomorrow's Academia

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INCREASING ACCESS TO COLLEGE Increasing Access to College: Extending Possibilities for all Students

Reviewed by Laura Saunders

What can be done to increase student success and improve the access of underperforming or underserved students to higher education? What role does participation in pre-college programs play in student success? This new title in the SUNY series on higher education, Increasing Access to College, is an illuminating collection of essays edited by William Tierney and Linda Serra Hagedorn on pre-college programs-how they may be conceptualized and what is known about their success in increasing access for underrepresented and underserved students. The editors, who have long been associated with higher education research in California, have collected some of the more recent work on access and access-enhancing programs.

The book is divided into three sections, each containing several focused essays that cover both conceptual and methodological issues in assessing pre-college programs. The first section focuses on the landscape of college access and includes three articles on the dimensions of access: a census of pre-college programs; the data bearing on the effects of urbanicity, race, and college-going and their link to college graduation; and a theoretical model of student achievement and academic excellence.

While federal programs such as GEAR UP and TRIO have existed for many years, the data on their ultimate effectiveness in producing college graduates are limited. College-going seems to increase but data on degree attainment appear to be lacking. Most measures of success are in terms of activity undertaken rather than degree attainment. This is the crux of trying to measure the success of these pre-college programs and it is important to see what the data show.

Clifford Adelman provides grounding in the data as well as cautions about the very limited measurable data on the impact of these programs. His startlingly obvious suggestion of a clinical trial where schools try some of the variety of programs and measure the results over time seems long overdue. It is unfortunate indeed that this has not been done so that it can clearly be seen what really works in terms of degree attainment as related to participation in pre-college programs. Adelman also offers a sobering analysis of pre-college programs by pointing out that college attendance is based on factors often outside the control of the secondary school; hence, the ultimate effects of pre-college programs are inherently limited.

The second section of the book offers four chapters on the real world of college preparation programs. These chapters describe programs for linking K-12 and college interventions, an innovative approach to confronting barriers to college readiness, a feminist perspective on college readiness programs, and a discussion of how high schools and colleges can work together to redistribute social and cultural capital.

Most illuminating in this section is the description of a college readiness program at University of California, Los Angeles that concentrated on taking tenth-grade students into an intensive social research project. Although traditional measures of success were not given, the project emphasized inculcation of college values and knowledge, rather than readiness for higher education. The tenth-graders were transformed into researchers and hence given an overview of the postsecondary experience far different than ordinary college readiness programs that concentrate on test taking, time management, and familiarity with facilities. Although such a program is costly and probably cannot be replicated on a wide scale, it does illuminate why co-enrollment programs are increasingly helpful. Moving secondary school students into the postsecondary environment emphasizes student transformation through participation rather than early identification of who will be successful.

The concluding section of the book offers policy recommendations in three chapters: making school to college programs work, the effect of parental involvement, and a reflective examination of evaluation challenges in college preparation programs. The final chapter by William Tierney offers a valuable framework to use in thinking about how to evaluate college preparation programs-one that is based on three straightforward steps: identifying whom the program serves, determining the indicators of student success, and defining the indicators of organizational effectiveness. Tierney suggests that a longitudinal database on the targeted student populations across organizations must be maintained if meaningful evaluation is to be done. Multiple measures of evaluation are necessary and Tierney warns that one such evaluation a year is probably the maximum, given the effort involved in evaluation and the disruption such reviews cause. Finally, he urges that ongoing evaluation of cost and communication of program effectiveness are necessary if the program evaluation is to be worthwhile.

This collection of essays reflects the difficulties inherent in evaluation research in this area. The programs that have been tried (and there are many) have not been carefully evaluated. A meta-evaluation of pre-college programs cries out to be done. The essays describe some of the ways in which the programs are structured and suggest elements that might determine success, but the lack of measurement and data continue to trouble practitioners. The final chapter by Tierney points the direction to better evaluation, and it may be that in the time since the book was published, the requisite long-term, cross-organizational analysis has been done, so that it is now possible to say what really works in terms of increasing degree attainment.

Access remains a difficult issue; many of the pre-college programs described in this volume affect only a small number of students, focus on changes to the schools themselves, and have undocumented outcomes. We are reminded again of the complexity of this issue and the need to turn to the data to see where real and lasting changes can be made. This volume points to conceptual models and again shows the weakness of the data on these programs. A clear path to increasing success is still not apparent, although this volume suggests elements that need to be included. Good, long-term research is badly needed in analyzing pre-college programs.