Published on 2014/10/06

Pre-Collegiate Program Pipeline Leaks: A Model of Inefficiency

Pre-Collegiate Program Pipeline Leaks: A Model of Inefficiency
Without adequate access to data on existing programs notionally designed to be pipelines to the academy, institutions don’t have the tools they need to efficiently reach out to students who would be well suited to their programs.
University pre-collegiate programs serve as vital pipelines to higher education. These programs are generally designed to provide students with sufficient skills, knowledge and confidence to prepare for college while they’re in middle or high school. One would imagine national data on programs and students attending university pre-collegiate programs would be collected nationally and connected to the institutions’ recruitment administration, but regrettably they aren’t. As a result, there’s a shocking data leak in the pre-collegiate-to-college pipeline that needs to be addressed.

Given national interest in remaining competitive in the global economy, promoting college access for all academically-qualified students in the United States remains a high priority today for both the public and private sectors. State governors, legislative committee members and postsecondary education governing boards have joined together to discuss strategies for increasing college access and completion rates in order to respond to global market demands.[1]

In fact, nearly 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies allocate a proportion of their total philanthropic contributions to programs that support postsecondary enrollment.[2] One would think there would be information wealth of outcome data on these programs, but the information is limited.

At a macro level, there is neither a mandated reporting mechanism nor an accompanying central repository for information about pre-collegiate outreach programs operating in the United States. At a micro level, research universities such as the University of California, San Diego, don’t have a formalized transfer of pre-collegiate student data to admissions, nor is there an evaluation process to capture program impact and other data for administrators to review.

There have been efforts over the past two decades to understand the variety and scope of these programs at the national level. In 1992, the Department of Education commissioned Westat to identify examples of college-school partnerships meant to improve the academic preparation of middle and high school students. The resulting two-volume report was not meant to be a comprehensive directory but it did provide details about 48 exemplary programs from 20 states and the District of Columbia, six of which were profiled via in-depth case studies.[3]

Additionally, the College Board inventory of pre-collegiate outreach programs from 1999 was initially published as a handbook and was ultimately used to develop a product, which evolved over time into an electronic database known today as the National College Access Program Directory. The Directory stores information provided on a volunteer basis by pre-collegiate outreach program staff.

The 1999 College Board study revealed that pre-collegiate outreach programs vary by multiple characteristics, including the age or grade of their target student population, characteristics of students targeted, total number of students served, program goals, program services, primary location for delivery of services, parental involvement, services offered to parents and evaluation activities.

Federally-funded programs are an important segment of the national pre-collegiate outreach program landscape. First, the federal government has been the key player in the development of pre-collegiate outreach programs.[4] Second, federally-funded programs make up the majority of existing pre-collegiate outreach programs, including more than 70 percent of the programs in the National College Access Programs Directory.[5] Finally, federal expenditures for pre-collegiate outreach programs have been substantial and sustained over time. This level of funding has allowed large numbers of students to be served by federal pre-collegiate outreach programs.

Given the attention and investment the federal government gives to pre-collegiate programs, it seems odd there isn’t a clearinghouse to see the return on investment taxpayers made in these programs. In future longitudinal studies sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, it will be useful to have more explicit questions regarding exactly in which pre-collegiate outreach program students participated, whether they participated in multiple programs, the amount of hours per week that program participation entailed and a verification system with the programs to confirm that administrators and students correctly identified pre-collegiate outreach programs.

The evidence highlights there is indeed a data leak in the pre-collegiate-to-college pipeline, and despite the excellent efforts by the National College Access Program Directory to gather data submitted voluntarily, the lack of a comprehensive, centralized and annually updated repository for information on pre-collegiate outreach programs is an obstacle to rigorous research on this important topic. Taxpayers and education leaders need to find a way to fix this problem, and awareness of the issues may be the first step.

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[1] Callan, P. M., Ewell, P. T., Finney, J. E., & Jones, D. P. (2007). Good policy, good practice improving outcomes and productivity in higher education: A guide for policymakers. San Jose, CA: The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

[2] Erisman, W., & Looney, S. M. (2008). Corporate investments in college readiness and access. Washington, DC: Institute for Higher Education Policy on behalf of the Business-Higher Education Forum.

[3] Westat. (1992a). Reaching for college, volume 1: Directory of college – school partnerships. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Policy and Planning AND Westat. (1992b). Reaching for college, volume 2: Case studies of college-school partnerships. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Policy and Planning.

[4] Counseling, N. A. f. C. A. (2004). Short term early college awareness: Key strategies for successful early intervention and early college awareness programs. Alexandria, V A: National Association for College Admission Counseling.

[5] Swail, W. S. (2000b). Preparing America’s disadvantaged for college: Programs that increase college opportunity. New Directions for Institutional Research (l07), 85.

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Readers Comments

Skeptical 2014/10/06 at 3:23 pm

What’s the point of running these programs if they don’t funnel students toward the university? I thought that was the point…

Dwayne P. 2014/10/06 at 4:29 pm

We can’t rely on the traditional pipeline in general, though. We should absolutely take what high school graduates we can get, but in a fundamental way our institutions need to change gears to improve the way we serve completely new student groups.

Judy R. 2014/10/06 at 8:33 pm

While I think the author makes some important points about the need for outcome measures, I wish to point out that there ARE pre-college programs that measure and document their impact. For examples of this, please check out the two links below:

Judy Ratkos 2014/10/07 at 3:47 pm

While the author makes important points, I take issue with the sweeping generalization that pre-college programs aren’t accountable for outcome data — some are. I work with multiple pre-college programs that measure and report significant impact data. See these two articles for more information:

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