COLLEGE KNOWLEDGE: An Assessment of Urban Students' Awareness of College Processes

Article excerpt

The contemporary college or university campus is a complex and dynamic environment that requires students to navigate myriad institutional processes. College preparedness is not simply a matter of being academically ready for postsecondary-level work, but also requires that students have a procedural knowledge of other university processes-what we define herein as "college knowledge." This article presents the results of an evaluation of a college preparation program that focuses on college knowledge and provides a road map for designing an effective college knowledge curriculum.

Increasing college access for students living in urban areas has been a focus of practitioners and researchers for decades. School districts, nonprofit organizations, and universi ties have undertaken the task of designing programs that facilitate low-income, urban youths' transition from high school to college. The purpose of this paper is not to evaluate the success these programs have had in increasing diversity on college campuses; rather, we are concerned with the level of social and procedural preparedness youths possess when they arrive on college campuses. .Although a rigorous high school curriculum is essential to postsecondary success (Adelman 2006), academic preparation alone does not guarantee degree completion (Conley 2005). Do youths from urban areas who attended low-performing high schools have adequate knowledge of college processes? Specif- ically, in the critical last two months before enter- ing college, of what as- pects of college transition are students unaware ? We define 'college knowledge' as a spe- cific skill set - social, academic, and cul- tural - necessary for suc- cessful transition to postsecondary education and degree completion. Youths who live in middle-class communities with family members who have completed postsecondary degrees learn what it means to be in college through their social networks (Stanton-Salazar 1997). These youths benefit from conversations with family members and peers about how to prepare for college and what to expect, When they have a difficult time making a decision e.g., which college to select), they have a social support systern that offers guidance. Youths from low-income cornmunities generally are less likely to have access to a social network that can provide this level of support and institutional knowledge (Lee and Bowen 2006); as a result, more often than not, they enter college unprepared. Students' first-year college experiences are critical to their persistence through degree completion (Goldrick-Rab 1007). Students from families without a history of college-going may overcome application and acceptance hurdles, but this does not guarantee that they are fully prepared to successfully negotiate the transition to enrollment and degree completion. These students' lack of knowledge of college processes becomes apparent upon their arrival on campus (Bloom 1007). Failure in classes the first semester or lack of social connectedness may lead to a perception by the student that completing college is not a realistic goal.

Gaining access to college is a multifaceted process that involves much more than completing applications and securing financial aid. In order for students to successfully negotiate the transition to college and achieve degree completion, they need to understand how to navigate institutional hierarchies, social obligations, and personal commitments (McDonough 1997). Our findings are based on an assessment of knowledge youths possessed who attended a summer bridge program at a large, urban, research university in the western United States. We worked with 90 youths who graduated from low-performing schools in a large urban area. Virtually all of the youths came from low-income families and were either Latino or African American. The youths had been accepted to a four-year college or university; one-third of the institutions were highly selective. The students' relatively high grade point averages and their sacrifice of nearly a month of their summer break suggest that the students were motivated to be successful in college. …