Characteristics of Effective Urban College Preparation Programs
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.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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