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Increasing Access to College: Extending Possibilities for All Students

reviewed by Dennis Redovich - 2003

coverTitle: Increasing Access to College: Extending Possibilities for All Students
Author(s): William G. Tierney and Linda Serra Sagedorn (Editors)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791453642, Pages: 250, Year: 2002
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This book consists of an Introduction by the editors, William G. Tierney and Linda Hagedorn, and ten chapters written by eighteen authors including the editors.  The book is divided into Part I “The Landscape of College Access” (3 Chapters), Part II “The Real World of College Preparation Programs” (4 Chapters), and Part III “Suggestions and Policy for the Future” (3 Chapters).


The Introduction attempts to justify and stress the importance of pre-college preparation programs and “articulation” programs that exist for the purpose of smoothing the transition for students moving from high school to college and universities, to community colleges, and to vocational and technical programs. The editors state that, “A college degree can longer be considered a luxury, but rather a necessary passport to the middle class” (p. 3).  This is a misleading account of class mobility; an account that is typical of many academics who seem disconnected from the real world. While the transition to vocational and technical programs is casually mentioned, all ten authors of this edited volume emphasize four-year degrees and never give specifics as to why post-secondary education is a “necessary” passport to the middle class.


For the majority of the jobs in the world, including those in the U.S., other than reading, writing, arithmetic, and developing a work ethic, there is not a direct relationship between post-secondary education and jobs. Education for education sake is good and is helpful in getting a job and doing it well. However there is a surplus of well-educated people for jobs that require higher levels of education and training.


The following summarizes the message conveyed in the entire book:


“First generation African American, Hispanic and Native American youth still lag behind the college-going rates of their white and Asian American counterparts Present practices have neither ameliorated nor quashed the academic divide. Although the status quo is unacceptable on many levels, we find it especially objectionable for the following reasons” (p. 1). 


·        Those who would most directly benefit from a postsecondary education -- Low income and minority youth are not receiving appropriate service.

·        Public postsecondary institutions increasingly are unwillingly and/are unable to provide services for remedial education; of consequence, effective college preparation programs take on increased importance.

·        If the United States is to maintain a competitive edge in the present era of the “global economy,” an educated workforce is more important than at any time in our history (pp. 1-2).


However, this is simply not the case.  The myths of the high tech, high skill and high pay jobs of the future have survived and flourished since the 1960’s. The New Economy is the new fiction of the economists and the casino royal players on Wall Street. In the 21st Century the savior of our New Economy and the creator of the high tech and high paying jobs of the future, the university, has emerged to save the United States from any economic calamities. Just throw millions of dollars at the universities and the academic elite will solve all our social and economic problems. Nothing could be further from reality.         

In my view, American education systems are unique in the world and produce the most productive workers in the world, the greatest scientists, business leaders that lead the global economy and an economy that is the envy of the world. As measured by the success of its graduates, American education systems are the finest in the world!

Please do not infer that I am opposed to college preparation and transition programs from high school to post-secondary institutions. I strongly support them. As a teacher of chemistry, guidance counselor and Director of Research, Planning and Development from 1963 to 1991 at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), which had 12,500 to 13,000 full-time employees and annual headcounts of more than 60,000, I observed and worked with the high percentage of MATC students who came from low-income families and poor educational backgrounds. I also evaluated MATC programs and the success of our graduates. It is not necessary to have a college degree to enter the middle class! In fact it not even necessary to complete a degree or diploma program, although it is highly desirable in most cases.        


In Chapter 3, Amaury Nora of the University of Houston School of Education points out the complexity of the process of persistence and retention in college.  Nora, referring to several studies, notes that “the graduation rate for first time, fulltime, first year students measured over a six-year period continues to be less than 40 percent. Nationally, less than 20 percent of the total population hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher (An additional 25 percent enter higher education but never complete degrees). Nearly 50 percent of these students drop out during the first year” (p. 69).  Nora believes there is still a need for research on instructional approaches and remediation that increase retention and graduation rates. Others, including myself, believe that best practices have been identified that can be used. However, in too many cases colleges and universities are wasting the money of students on programs that will not lead to success. In some cases remedial programs and courses are cash cows for colleges, universities and community colleges. The most useless and ridiculous for most students are math remedial courses that require students to relearn useless higher math that they have forgotten because they have never used it since taking math courses in high school.


In Chapter 6 the differences between reasons for males and females dropping out of school are discussed.  Notable conclusions drawn from the chapter include: males were at greater risk of dropping out because of academic performance or behavior; and females were at a greater risk of dropping out because of poor attendance or because of pregnancy/parenting responsibilities. (p. 133).  


Chapter 8 claims that, “in spite of the proliferation of programs, there remains a lack of research to assess effectiveness.  Most of the literature regarding special programs does not include empirical data to test for efficacy. Moreover, the existing evaluations tend to be short term and do not follow students to graduation and beyond” (p. 169). Therefore many program evaluations have little value, in my judgment.            


Also in Chapter 8, “Making School to College Programs Work” it is said that, “While both popular knowledge and college admission policies often emphasize the importance of high school grades, the (California) model indicates that courses taken in high school may actually be a better predictor of college enrollment than grade point average” (pp. 185-6).  Adelman, in Chapter 2, also emphasized the role of taking the “right” courses before college to increase the chances of graduating from college. Unbelievably the authors of Chapter 8, Linda Serra Hagedorn and Shereen Fogel, seem to suggest that all students should take “rigorous” courses in high school regardless of their academic abilities because if they ever want to go a four-year college they will have a better chance of success. This is just as questionable as requiring algebra and higher math courses of all students for high school graduation.   


Students as a group who take “rigorous” courses in high school (higher math and science) and pass them will of course do better in college than those who do not take them because they are “better” students to begin with. It is claimed by many that taking rigorous courses (math) develops problem solving and critical thinking skills that are “critical” for the high tech and high skill jobs of the future. As a former teacher of math and chemistry at the high school, university and technical college level I believe there is no evidence that there is any truth to this belief. It is my observation, that requiring all students to take higher math and science courses in high school increases dropout rates and lowers graduation rates.    


In Chapter 9 it is suggested that parental involvement is important in college preparation and transition programs (p. 195). And it may be. However “a recent qualitative study on the mobility of first-generation Latino youths in college revealed that siblings, and not parents had a greater influence on their motivation to succeed” (p. 210).  It is my experience that siblings and school friends have significant influence on school success of at-risk students, and their assistance should be utilized whenever possible.


Chapter 10, “Reflective Evaluation” by William G. Tierney discusses the problems of doing an effective evaluation of programs. In summary, it is generally suggested that an effective program evaluation should be long term so that it not only measures college enrollment and a successful first year of college, but also the numbers of college graduates each year and the experiences of students after they graduate from or dropout of college. This is the format for program evaluations that are done at the MATC and the Wisconsin Technical College System, for one and two year vocational/technical programs. It is, unfortunately, an uncommon evaluation procedure for four colleges and universities in Wisconsin or the United States.       


This book will most likely be skim read by students writing a paper or professors for a long bibliography and footnotes for a published piece.  For these purposes, this volume is useful as it covers much ground.  However, the notion that a four-year post secondary education is necessary for anyone who aspires to have a good job needs to be challenged.  Increasing Access to College does little to challenge this flawed notion.  For this reason, the book falls short in its examination.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 105 Number 1, 2003, p. 50-54
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10958, Date Accessed: 1/19/2022 11:46:07 PM

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