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Pilot program aims to boost college access programs

Pilot Program Aims to Boost College Access Programs
Clockwise from upper left: Tia McNair of the National College Access Network, Estela Mara Bensimon of USC’s Center for Urban Education, Catherine Carney of East Boston High School and Claudia Gutierrez of the Community Academy of Science and Health

A new initiative launched over the summer by the National College Access Network and the Center for Urban Education has been working to improve the quality and reach of college access programs to minority high school students.

Funded by the Kresge Foundation, the new pilot program aims to expand the pool of college-eligible minority high school students by enhancing the quality of college access programs and integrating these efforts with the schools’ academic goals.

Studies have shown that while there is no shortage of these programs available to students, school leaders often are unaware if the right services are being offered to students who need them the most. According to statistics, only 35 percent of Boston public schools’ college-bound graduates from the class of 2000 actually earned degrees by 2007.

Tia Brown McNair, assistant director for the National College Access Network, the grant recipient, said the funding provides resources that promise to increase the effectiveness of these programs and subsequently get more minority high school students into college.

“What Boston is experiencing with student achievement outcomes – the huge disparities – is what schools all across the country are experiencing,” said McNair, who is based in Washington, D.C. “If you put this project in the national context, it has the potential to influence how schools design their school improvement plans.”

Two Boston-based high schools are participating in the project. Community Academy of Science and Health is a college preparatory school where almost 80 percent of students are African American and 20 percent are Latino. At East Boston High School, with more than 1,300 students enrolled, approximately two-thirds are Latino. In addition to a diverse student body, both schools need to improve academic achievement and have multiple college access programs with supplemental student support services.

Also involved is the Center for Urban Education, based at the USC Rossier School of Education, which was recruited by McNair because of its commitment to equity, expertise in data analysis and experience in facilitating teams of school practitioners to examine and change instructional practices and improve student learning outcomes. After attending one of the center’s Institutes for Equity and Critical Policy Analysis, funded by the Ford Foundation, McNair realized the center’s “tools” could be adapted to high schools.

Historically, the Center for Urban Education has focused on two- and four-year colleges to address racial and ethnic disparities in educational outcomes. This project will mark the first time the center will use the equity scorecard, its innovative method of research, at the high school level.

With this project, researchers will assess individual students’ access to academic and advancement resources that help them get into college. Training and consultancy on the methods of participatory action research will then be provided to National College Access Network staff, schoolteachers, administrators and college access providers.

By using these methods, high school administrators will be able to analyze who is participating in these programs, gauge the level of progress students are making in preparation for college and identify the improvements needed.

At the end of the pilot project, both the Center for Urban Education and the National College Access Network will jointly produce a report that will determine the possibility of replicating the center’s processes and data tools in other high schools around the country.

Pilot program aims to boost college access programs

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