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Supporting College Transitions Through Collaborative Programming: A Conceptual Model for Guiding Policy


by Melinda Mechur Karp & Katherine L Hughes — 2008

Background/Context: Recent educational policy developments have sought to raise the academic rigor of students’ high school experiences to increase student preparation for postsecondary education. The expansion of credit-based transition programs (CBTPs), both in number and in the type of student served, represents one such strategy. These programs allow high school students to take college classes and earn college credit while still in high school. Despite policy makers’ enthusiasm, there has been little theorizing about why CBTPs might lead to improved student access to, and persistence in, college. Further, because any policy created to support these programs lacks a theoretical foundation, unintended consequences may result.

Research Questions/Focus of Study: The research question guiding this study was, Through what mechanisms might credit-based transition programs encourage student success in postsecondary education? This article presents a conceptual model hypothesizing why and how CBTPs may lead to their intended outcomes. We then explore five CBTPs in diverse policy contexts. We describe the ways that programs are attempting to meet the needs of a wide range of students, and identify program features that appear to best prepare middle- and low-achieving students for postsecondary education.

Research Design: Five in-depth qualitative case studies were conducted. Two visits were made to each site, during which we conducted interviews and observations with faculty, staff, and students, and collected supporting documents. Interview transcript and observational data were uploaded into NVivo, a qualitative software program, for coding and analysis.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The case study data demonstrated that our initial conceptual model oversimplified program structure and the interaction among program components. The model was refined to reflect that complexity and to take student motivation into account. The final model hypothesizes that student participation in college coursework and support services, along with the attendant growth in academic skills, knowledge of the social aspects of college, and motivation, will lead students to matriculate into postsecondary education. Moreover, because of their strong skills, students will be likely to persist in college once there.

Future research should seek to test this model. In the meantime, the findings have important implications for policy makers and educators because they suggest that middle- and low-achieving students may benefit from participation in CBTPs if they are properly prepared for, and supported in, their college courses. In addition, the findings stress the importance of collaboration and communication across secondary and postsecondary sectors.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 4, 2008, p. 838-866
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14641, Date Accessed: 7/22/2014 1:27:12 PM

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About the Author
  • Melinda Karp
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    MELINDA MECHUR KARP is a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center and the Institute on Education and the Economy. She uses qualitative methods to study the transition from secondary education to postsecondary education and work, particularly for disadvantaged youth. Recent work has focused on credit-based transition programs and the role of state policies in easing the secondary-to-postsecondary transition. Dr. Karp also has extensive experience conducting policy analyses on a range of topics. Her publications include Pathways to Access and Success (with Hughes, Fermin, and Bailey; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education); “Dual Enrollment/Dual Credit: Its Role in Career Pathways” (with Hughes, Bunting, and Friedel; Career Pathways: Education With a Purpose); and Credentials, Curriculum, and Access: The Debate Over Nurse Preparation (with Hughes and Jacobs; Community College Press).
  • Katherine Hughes
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    KATHERINE L. HUGHES is assistant director for Work and Education Reform Research at the Institute on Education and the Economy, and the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Hughes has led and conducted research on education reform and on changes in the nature of work. Her recent work focuses on the potential of credit-based transition programs (such as dual enrollment) for preparing underachieving youth for college. Previous research projects have centered on the national school-to-work initiative, employer involvement in high schools, work-based learning, the restructuring of New York City’s vocational high schools, and career academies. Select publications include Working Knowledge: Work-Based Learning and Education Reform (with Bailey and Moore; from RoutledgeFalmer Press); “Business Partnerships for American Education” (with Karp and Orr; Journal of Vocational Education and Training); and “School-to-Work: Making a Difference in Education” (with Bailey and Karp; Phi Delta Kappan).
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