Characteristics of Effective Urban College Preparation Programs (page 2)
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, 1997):
- 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 curricula.
- 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 required exam.
- 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.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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