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     Access at the Crossroads Blog

    These blog entires identify best practices to increase success for historically-underrepresented college students including excerpts from my book, Access at the CrossroadsClick here to subscribe to this blog.


    History of Learning Assistance Programs in the Mid to Late 1800s

    As a historian, I have been interested in the history of learning assistance and developmental education.  Listening to the rhetoric of today as some argue for the elimination of developmental-level courses, a listener might think that such courses are a recent creation.  A careful review of the historical record reveals they have been embedded as part of American higher education since the start.  Below is the first of three parts of an examination of the 1800s.  These are excerpts from my 2010 book published by Jossey-Bass, "Access at the crossroads:  Learning assistance in higher education."

    Recruitment of Academically Underprepared Students

    After the U.S. Civil War, students who were considered academically under-prepared were aggressively recruited. Economic and social changes throughout the United States fueled by the Civil War significantly influenced expansion of learning assistance at more colleges. Many male students did not seek admission or left college to join their respective armies. Many colleges in the North and South replaced them and their tuition payments through expanded academic preparatory departments that supported underage students who were too young to enlist. Examples from the North include Valparaiso University in Indiana, which replaced college students through a rapid expansion of the academic preparatory department. Although the liberal arts college and theology school at Bucknell University closed temporarily in 1865, the academic preparatory school at the same college significantly increased its enrollment. Offsetting enroll­ment decreases saved many institutions from closing. Southern colleges followed the same pattern of Northern institutions through extended academic prepara­tory departments and acceptance of applicants formerly denied admission. In 1861 the University of Alabama created an academic preparatory department for boys twelve years and older. In 1863 the University of Georgia created Uni­versity High School and suspended rules prohibiting admission of boys younger than fourteen to the university. The Faculty Senate of South Carolina College in 1862 voted to admit young students to replace revenue lost by former stu­dents who had left the institution to join the Confederate Army (Rudy, 1996).


    History of Learning Assistance Programs in the Mid 1880s

    As a historian, I have been interested in the history of learning assistance and developmental education.  Listening to the rhetoric of today as some argue for the elimination of developmental-level courses, a listener might think that such courses are a recent creation.  A careful review of the historical record reveals they have been embedded as part of American higher education since the start.  Below is the first of three parts of an examination of the 1800s.  These are excerpts from my 2010 book published by Jossey-Bass, "Access at the crossroads:  Learning assistance in higher education."

    Academic Preparatory Academies

    In 1830, New York University created an early prototype of an academic prepara­tory academy. It provided instruction in mathematics, physical science, philoso­phy, and English literature (Dempsey, 1985). The focus, however, was acquiring basic academic content knowledge, not the cognitive learning strategies that are often prerequisite for mastery of new academic material. These academies were a necessary bridge for many college aspirants as a result of the lack of formal sec­ondary education for many. The U.S. education movement started from the top down. First, colleges and universities were established and then public elemen­tary and secondary schools were developed. Some colleges functioned essentially as both high schools and rigorous colleges. The academic preparatory academies supported the rising academic rigor of postsecondary institutions and provided an access conduit for those seeking a college education. The academies expanded with surprising speed in a short time. By 1894, 40 percent of first-year college students had enrolled in college preparatory courses (Ignash, 1997).

    Academic Preparatory Deparments Become Part of the College Curriculum:  Late 1800s

    Since the beginning, tutorial programs were the most common form of aca­demic enrichment and support at most prestigious institutions such as Har­vard and Yale. Many college administrators responded to the high number of students academically underprepared by creating a special academic depart­ment that was essential to meet their academic needs. In less selective institu­tions, the number of underprepared students outnumbered those not requiring additional support. For example, the University of Wisconsin in 1865 could place only forty-one of 331 admitted students in “regular” graduation credit courses. The majority of the new students admitted were restricted to remedial courses (Shedd, 1932). Quality of primary and secondary education was uneven or missing in most of the United States. Most colleges provided instruction in basic skills of spelling, writing, geography, and mathematics, as they were the only venue for such instruction (Brier, 1984). Instruction in basic content areas lengthened the undergraduate bachelor’s academic degree to six years or more (Casazza and Silverman, 1996).

    In 1849, the University of Wisconsin established the first modern learning assistance program. Instead of offering remedial courses through an external academic preparatory academy, Wisconsin created an academic department for these courses and hired a separate faculty to teach them. The Department of Preparatory Studies instructed students through remedial courses in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Because of an insufficient number of tutors to meet the academic needs of most admitted students, the institution quickly responded by establishing the new academic department. Of the 331 admit­ted students, 290 enrolled in one or more remedial courses in the preparatory studies department. These courses were similar to those offered at a public high school (Brubacher and Rudy, 1976). Many institutions across the United States implemented the Wisconsin model of learning assistance (Brier, 1984). The department persisted until 1880. Continuous internal political battles among the department, campus administrators, and the rest of the university faculty served as a catalyst for its demise. Faculty members from outside the depart­ment demanded its elimination because of the fear of stigma for the university. College administrators tried to appease critics through strategies such as renam­ing the department. New campus administrators finally closed the department after its short and contentious history (Curti and Carstensen, 1949).

    Academic preparatory departments emerged at more than 80 percent of all postsecondary institutions (Canfield, 1889). These departments bridged the gap between inadequate academic preparation of high school graduates and college-level curricular expectations (Clemont, 1899). Review of college admission documents indicated that the farther west the college was located, the lower the entrance requirements for the institution as a result of insuffi­cient preparation in high school. As the public school movement spread from the Northeast farther south and west, college entrance requirements of the institutions eventually rose. After a half century of use, however, remedial col­lege credit courses were entrenched in most colleges.


    History of Learning Assistance in the Early to Mid 1880s

    As a historian, I have been interested in the history of learning assistance and developmental education.  Listening to the rhetoric of today as some argue for the elimination of developmental-level courses, a listener might think that such courses are a recent creation.  A careful review of the historical record reveals they have been embedded as part of American higher education since the start.  Below is the first of three parts of an examination of the 1800s.  These are excerpts from my 2010 book published by Jossey-Bass, "Access at the crossroads:  Learning assistance in higher education."

    Academic preparation academies emerged during the mid-1800s. These new postsecondary education units provided education equivalent to public high schools, which were not common in most of the United States at the time. Col­leges recognized that tutoring as it was being practiced was insufficient to serve the needs of the expanding college student population. Often academies oper­ated in the local community rather than on the college campus. In addition to tutoring, the academies enrolled students in remedial classes in reading, writ­ing, and mathematics. This phase was a short one, as the expansion of public education across the United States replaced the need for many of the new academies. The composition of the student body changed little during this phase. Most students were white males from privileged families. Because most students were involved with learning assistance and from the upper class, lit­tle stigma was attached, as it was perceived as a natural part of the education process, a process that was available to so few at the time.

    Impact of Jacksonian Democracy

    Some historians identified several elements of Jacksonian democracy as affecting U.S. society in the mid-1800s. Whites benefited from the exten­sion of voting privileges, middle-class workers and small shop owners received financial support, and education was extended to more of the pop­ulation. One application of Jacksonian democracy was expansion of post­secondary education through common schools, public education, and an expanded curriculum for more people in the middle class rather than only the most privileged.

    During this time, expansion of postsecondary education was essential to support development of the economic middle class of merchants, tradesman, engineers, agriculturalists, and scientists needed to meet the needs of the grow­ing nation and to support its economic development. This intersection of interests among political progressives and economic forces indirectly supported learning assistance as a means to ensure higher productivity of colleges to grad­uate sufficient numbers of skilled workers and leaders.

    With poor or nonexistent secondary education and even inadequate pri­mary education in some cases, however, many college aspirants could barely read and write (Craig, 1997). The number of those who tutored and the num­ber who received tutorial assistance were nearly identical to the number of teaching faculty and their enrolled students (Brier, 1984), documenting the extensive involvement of learning assistance in postsecondary education. Since the early years, debate has continued about how to meet the needs of admitted college students. Providing tutoring for students was insufficient to meet their needs during this time. More services would emerge.

    One option for meeting students’ academic preparation needs was to pro­vide remedial and developmental courses in the institution’s curriculum. Proponents of elitism in postsecondary education prevailed temporarily against that option, however. The fixed college curriculum prescribed the same slate of classical courses for all students, without regard to individual needs for development of improved learning strategies and mastery of fundamental aca­demic content material in mathematics and writing. Thus, academic prepara­tory academies continued to house remedial and developmental courses.


    Counseling Makes a Difference for Low-Income Students Attending College

    From Inside HigherEd by Scott Jaschik.    "A theme of several studies in the last year has been that there are plenty of academically talented low-income students who for some combination of reasons are not applying to competitive colleges to which they would probably be admitted.  A new study along those lines -- this time documenting the impact of intense college counseling -- was released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study (abstract available here) found that a nonprofit group that focuses on college counseling in Minneapolis-St. Paul had a significant impact in increasing the rate at which low-income students enrolled in four-year colleges, including competitive institutions.

    The study was conducted by Christopher Avery of Harvard University -- co-author (with Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University) of a study released in December that found that most highly talented, low-income students never apply to a single competitive college. That work has set off widespread discussions about what sort of interventions might make a difference.  Avery's new study looks at College Possible, a program that provides in-depth college counseling as well as tutoring on the ACT or SAT. Avery was able to study the impact of the program by comparing results on College Possible participants with those who applied to (and were not admitted to) the program despite having slightly better academic preparation.  The study found no statistically significant gains in ACT scores for those who participated in the program. Avery writes, however, that this may understate the impact of the program, because he suspects that some of those who didn't get into College Possible found test-prep services elsewhere.  But the study found a significant impact on College Possible participants in applying to and enrolling in four-year colleges, and especially to competitive colleges. More than 45 percent of the students in the College Possible program enrolled at a four-year college, while the figure in the control group was 34 percent. And the most popular college among those in the program was Augsburg College, a competitive liberal arts college that did not enroll a single student from the control group (though some would appear to have been academically qualified had they applied).  The findings could be significant in that the earlier Avery-Hoxby study noted that low-income students who enroll in more competitive colleges are more likely to land at institutions with better graduation rates, more financial aid, and more resources to promote their academic success.

    Read more:


    San Jose State Efforts for First-Generation College Students

    The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on efforts at San Jose State University to better serve first-generation college students.  <Read the entire report on the Chronicle of HE web site.>  One of the items that I noticed was the concern about programming and support services for first-genration students AFTER the first year.  So often many colleges provide programs to transition students into college and additional programming during the first year.  They the institution turns to the next cohort of students and focuses on them.  The second, third, and fourth year students are assumed "safe" and little attention is paid with them.  The Noel-Levitz enrollment management organization documents how one of the biggest drop out groups in colleges are the invisible "middle" students.  These are the struments that survived the first year and then go off the radar of intrusive and comprehensive student retention services.  These students silently exit the institution for the same reasons that had such a difficult time during the first year, but no one pays any attention to them anymore.  If they are surveyed why they left, they provide the politically correct answer it was financial.  The school officials shrug their shoulders and say it was the poor economy that did it to the students.  Actually, the departure of the students is far more complex and often preventable.

    From the Chronicle of HE report:  "....Among the programs Ms. Morazes has set up is a series of workshops for first-generation students. The sessions focus on such topics as goal-setting, stress-management strategies, and talking to family members about college.  She also visits local high schools to publicize resources at San Jose State and to provide students with role models, something she hopes to do more of.

    Also looking to expand the program is Art King, the university's associate vice president for student affairs. "Right now we only look at first-generation students when they come in, but they are first-generation students throughout their time at college," he says. "My hope is to have programs for second-year students, third-year students, and for fourth-year students, so each group gets appropriate resources and help."

    Because the program is new and growing, there is not much long-range data on its effectiveness. Ms. Morazes is tracking the progress of participating students, including retention rates after the first year and progress toward declaring a major and earning a degree. She conducts evaluations before and after events to assess changes in students' knowledge of campus resources, their sense of belonging and connectedness, and whether they feel they are on track to earn a degree...."


    Highlights from College Completion Annual Conference: Game Changers

    The College Completion Annual Conference was this week.   <Read the entire report on the Chonicle of Higher Education webpage.>  Much of Monday's discussion centered on what Complete College America calls the "game changers"—strategies that it says can double the number of remedial students passing college-level courses, triple the graduation rates for students transferring with associate degrees to four-year colleges, and quadruple completion of career certificate programs.  Those include tying state appropriations to student performance; making introductory college-level courses, rather than remedial courses, the default placement for almost all students; and offering co-requisite remediation, which is offered alongside college-level courses, to those who need it.

    Speakers also argued that too many students are placed directly in remedial courses on the basis of a single placement test, dooming many to a semester or more of courses they pay for but don't get credit for.  Mathematics educators described accelerated math pathways, like Statway and Quantway, that they say are more relevant to most students than the traditional sequences that trip up many learners  The approach, which was developed with the University of Texas at Austin's Charles A. Dana Center, is being used this fall across all of Texas' 50 community-college districts.

    The group also heard from students. Kierra Brocks said that when she enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College, in Indiana, she missed the cutoff in math by two points and ended up in a remedial class that didn't challenge her. "It wasn't only money wasted but time wasted," she said. "It doesn't give you motivation to continue."


    Top Rated New Activities TRIO Leaders Want for Their Programs

    In spring 2012 MAEOPP surveyed its members regarding what education practices they wanted for their programs.  The information is categorized by highest priority and also by category.  This information might be helpful for MAEOPP members as they consider education practices to submit from their own programs.  

    Practices requested by more than half of the survey responders:

    • Financial literacy curriculum and activities
    • Strategies for raising retention rates of students within the program
    • Leadership development
    • Study skills building workshops or courses
    • Methods of assessing students for academic advisement
    • Improved attitudes towards learning
    • Improved student confidence
    • Effective methods for tracking students after program completion
    • Career exploration activities and classes
    • Holistic assessments of students (example uses could be for program admission, academic advisement, or other program purposes)
    • Job shadowing activities
    • Career interest assessments and activities

      [Click on this link to download the two-page survey results.]  

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