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Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise

reviewed by Jodi Buyyounouski - March 29, 2007

coverTitle: Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise
Author(s): Patricia Gandara, Gary Orfield, & Catherine Horn (Eds.)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 079146864X , Pages: 302, Year: 2006
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Barriers to college translate into a “robbery of basic human capital and the loss of hope of entire communities” (p. 282). Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise is a compilation of essays edited by Patricia Gandara, Gary Orfield and Catherine Horn that assess the current state of higher education and underscore the importance of a college education for both individual success and the vitality of the country. The chapter authors provide a thought-provoking interpretation of educational opportunities in the United States through the use of national and state data sets, historical analysis, policy decision implications and recommendations for future efforts. As the reader learns from the text, it becomes unmistakably evident that the educational pipeline is not smooth and students continue to fall through its cracks.

In their introduction, Gandara and Orfield describe education as a “systemic issue affecting the entire pathway from preschool to college” (p. 8). One of the major strengths of this book is the P-18 (preschool through college) comprehensive approach to studying and understanding how a student progresses through the educational pipeline. The first half of the book (chapters 2 through 5) discusses K-12’s role as it relates to higher education, while the second half (chapters 6 through 11) focuses on how higher education is linked to access and opportunity. Together, the chapter authors provide the reader with a deeper appreciation of how relationships, connections and opportunities can affect a student’s chance at college success.

The book is rich in detail and varies in perspectives as the chapter authors bring with them expertise from academia, non-profit organizations, college administration, consulting firms, policy groups, professional associations, community initiative programs and outreach programs. In their analysis, the authors focus on the nation and California. California was selected as the state on which to concentrate as California educates one in nine students in the country. Conceptually, California’s 1960 three-tiered higher education model aimed to guarantee access for all. As the population of college-going students continues to grow in size and diversity, however, the 1960 California Master Plan does not appear to be meeting the needs of its students.

Both the national and California data clearly demonstrate achievement gaps among students based on income and race. Chapter authors Ratliff and Fitzgerald identify financial aid and academic preparation as two major factors affecting student achievement. Ratliff notes that researchers link higher education access and opportunity to the quality of the K-12 education a student receives. Likewise, Fitzgerald discusses studies which illustrate that achievement gaps exist within the same school and that college choice is closely related to family income. For example, when comparing students with similar math test scores, high-income students are more likely to attend college over their lower-income peers and, among those who enroll, higher-income students tend to choose a four-year institution over a two-year (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2002). To help further contextualize these achievement gaps, the section by Oakes, Mendoza and Silver applies measurement instruments such as the College Opportunity Ratio (COR) to uncover relationships and patterns in the educational system.

In their respective chapters, Hamlett and Horn & Marin identify some significant problems in the educational system including: a lack of funding, uneven student preparation, imbalanced admissions criteria/testing methods, underserved students and the erosion of civil rights policies. In his piece, Fitzgerald focuses on other barriers to college enrollment and persistence including unmet financial need, late notification of financial aid and the prospect of graduating with high levels of student debt. For various reasons counting some of the financial issues mentioned above, the chapter by Handel, Heisel, and Hoblitzell shows that a high proportion of low-income and minority students attend two-year or community colleges. As part of the California Master Plan, community college students would theoretically transfer into the four-year institutions. The reality, however, is that a low percentage of community college students transfer on to complete four-year degrees.

Understanding issues related to opportunity and access is only half of the battle. In Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise, the authors also recommend solutions such as intervention programs linked with early financial aid guarantees, more grant aid as opposed to loans for low-income families, the dissemination of college information/knowledge to students, and a partnership between state and federal programs to ease the financial burden for low-income and minority families. Additionally, chapter authors Bensimon, Hao and Bustillos direct institutions to be accountable for their actions by applying measurement tools such as the Academic Equity Scorecard to assess both their inputs (enrollments) and outputs (graduation rates). The Academic Equity Scorecard considers four indicators in the measurement process: access, retention, excellence and institutional receptivity. By identifying institutional strengths and weaknesses on the Academic Equity Scorecard, institutions will be able to better target their policies and programs to support and encourage access.

While many view education as a private good, experts like Vernez, Krop and Rydell (1999) also point to the hard fact that college degree attainment directly impacts the country’s economic situation. As expressed in Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise, the United States is currently beginning to lag behind in degree completion rates as compared to other countries. Some of the chapters allude to the notion that the benefits of closing the education gap outweigh the costs. An additional chapter describing a cost and benefit analysis would only further underscore that action needs to be taken to safeguard our nation’s future. College degree attainment is both a public and private good that has great potential returns for individuals and society.

Although the target audience of this book seems to be policy makers, in some way we all are called to take action and become involved in strengthening the educational pipeline—be it the parent, teacher, student or citizen. The authors of this book discuss partnerships, responsibility, equity, and the importance of a national conversation about access. Having worked in admissions for ten years, I have witnessed first-hand how differences in exposure to college and availability of resources to commit to the process can affect a student’s decision to apply and enroll. The knowledge, skill, and experience gained from the attainment of a college degree create a pathway to more productive individuals and a stronger society. Expanding Opportunity in Higher Education: Leveraging Promise gives the reader every reason to act now—invest in the future and reap the benefits, or pay later and suffer the consequences.


Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. (2002). Empty promises: The myth of college access in America. Washington, DC.

Vernez, G., Krop, R. A., & Rydell, C. P. (1999). Closing the education gap: Benefits and costs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 29, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14014, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 5:20:47 PM

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About the Author
  • Jodi Buyyounouski
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    JODI H. BUYYOUNOUSKI is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation topic focuses on how low-income students construe and respond to institutional tuition guarantee programs. Buyyounouski earned her Master of Arts in Student Personnel Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Lafayette College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Art. Upon graduation, Buyyounouski worked at both Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Offices of Undergraduate Admissions for ten years. She presented at the 2005 Ivy Plus Admissions Conference on topics related to strategies for increasing the positive experiences of campus visitors. In 2006, Buyyounouski was nominated to attend the Association for the Study of Higher Education Graduate Student Policy Seminar. Buyyounouski has published in Educational Foundations: The Journal of the Social Foundations of Education and The Encyclopedia of the Social and Cultural Foundations of Education (in press).
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