Student transition from high school to college needs to begin early in the former setting, not at the outset of the latter, especially for low-income and minority youth.
Only 54% of low-income traditional college students graduate within six years compared with 77% of their higher-income counterparts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal entity based in Washington, D.C., and located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (from 2002 data).
The disparity also is evident across racial and ethnic lines: only 46% of African Americans and 47% of Latinos graduate within six years of entering postsecondary education compared with 67% of whites, as documented in "A Matter of Degrees: Improving Graduation Rates in Four-Year Colleges and Universities," a 2004 report published by the Education Trust, an advocacy organization out of Washington, D.C.
Reasons for college transition programs
High school students need diverse support to gain the many skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college including academic content competencies, college application guidance, cognitive and critical thinking skills, civic awareness, time management and teamwork strategies, and healthy social-emotional coping abilities.
While some students learn these diverse skills at home, in school, and from mentors and peers, other students require additional support and structures. This is particularly the case in low-income high schools where access to quality and timely information is often limited due to staffing constraints and insufficient school resources and where a majority of youth are potentially first-generation college students.
Many colleges help students make this leap by offering summer transition camps and remedial courses. These undoubtedly help. But an earlier, long-term investment in transition programs--begun when students are in secondary school--provides a more comprehensive approach.
Federal success stories
The U.S. Department of Education's TRIO initiatives (http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/index.html) offer low-income, first-generation college students, plus students with disabilities, college readiness outreach services beginning in middle school and continuing through postbaccalaureate programs.
Upward Bound (http://www.ed.gov/programs/trioupbound/index.html), the best-known TRIO initiative, helps 9th to 12th graders through the college preparation process. Begun in 1964, Upward Bound will allocate more than $300 million in 2009 on programs. (Its positive impact has been documented by, for instance, the Mathematic Policy Research, Inc., in 2004; see http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/upboundimpact.pdf.)
Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), another federal investment introduced in 1998 (http://www.ed.gov/programs/gearup/index.html) and whose 2009 funding approximates that of Upward Bound, offers college preparation and transition support, starting in 7th grade, and tracks students through high school. Evaluations of GEAR UP sites find positive correlations between students' program participation and college readiness.
Funded by federal dollars and implemented by multiple local sites, projects like these forge trust and lasting relationships between mentors and students, offer ongoing college preparation courses and related guidance, and create diverse internship and skill-building opportunities--all of which aid student transition to college. …