Double the Numbers: Increasing Postsecondary Credentials for Underrepresented Youth
reviewed by Shouping Hu - 2005
Title: Double the Numbers: Increasing Postsecondary Credentials for Underrepresented Youth
Author(s): Richard Kazis, Joel Vargas, and Nancy Hoffman (Editors)
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1891792229, Pages: 302, Year: 2004
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The changing demographic and economic context presents a challenge for policy makers to find effective ways to promote student success while minimizing the disparity in educational attainment among students from different backgrounds. “Doubling the numbers” of underrepresented youth to earn college credentials by 2020 is a policy goal advocated by Jobs for the Future to meet this challenge. This book, also entitled Double the Numbers, offers 26 essays proposing and describing a variety of strategies to “expand postsecondary success significantly and to simultaneously reduce achievement gaps by categories that include income, race, and ethnicity” (p. 7).
The book is organized into three sections. Section one proposes policy initiatives and innovations that can improve postsecondary success, addressing issues in high schools, postsecondary institutions, and the alignment of these two. Contributors in this section recognize the need to establish a seamless pipeline to promote student success in obtaining postsecondary credentials. Barth and Haycock (Chapter 2), Nathan (Chapter 5) and Bishop (Chapter 6) focus on how reforms in high schools can promote student success. Barth and Haycock argue that a common, high–standards curriculum is the way to help students get ready for college. Nathan suggests that dual enrollment in high school and college by students, charter schools, and better information gathering and dissemination can promote student access in college. Bishop suggests a merit scholarship program that ties to state standards and assessment results, such as the Michigan Merit Award, can promote student achievement. Ewell (Chapter 7), Longanecker (Chapter 8), and Hauptman (Chapter 9) propose policies targeting postsecondary institutions. Recognizing that student inputs such as background characteristics substantially influence gross measures of institutional performance, these three contributors suggest that more incentives should be placed on institutional performance in helping underrepresented students succeed in college. Schwartz (Chapter 1), Tucker (Chapter 3), and Kirst and Venezia (Chapter 4) address the misconnection and disconnection between K-12 and postsecondary systems and further propose corrective strategies. Schwartz proposes a multiple pathways approach to meet the needs of a diverse student population by diversifying educational offerings. Tucker recognizes the current misalignment problem in K-12 and postsecondary education in the
Section two describes innovative practices and programs emerging in systems, states, and schools. Essays in this section are organized into two clusters. The first cluster examines policy strategies such as accountability, financing, and incentives. Among the seven essays in the first cluster, the first four essays (Chapters 10-13) advance a systemic perspective by arguing for the need to connect K-12 education with postsecondary education (Stampen and Hansen, 1999). Essentially, the contributors argue that assessment and graduation requirements in high school need to prepare students for college-level work. They also describe some effective policies already existing in various states. The remaining three chapters explain policies targeting postsecondary education. Evenbeck, Seabrook,
Section three shifts the focus from policy proposals and program descriptions to effective policy implementation. Wilson (Chapter 23) and Ferraro (Chapter 24) independently advocate the need to expand the conversation on the benefits of education beyond economic and utilitarian terms to the role of education in civic functions for society and as a “public good.”
Although at first blush this book appears to stretch a bit thin on issues, it is indeed an excellent source for policy makers to gain a greater understanding of the policy alternatives that can be adopted and implemented to promote educational attainment of underrepresented students. It is a book that properly reflects the spirit of “rediscovering the roots” for higher education as a field of study by translating theories and research into policy proposals and actions (Terenzini, 1996). It is not surprising to see different contributors advocating different strategies to achieve policy goals, as observed by Kazis in his introduction to the book. However, it would be interesting to see some comparisons and contrasts on the costs and effectiveness of different approaches in achieving the goal of “doubling the numbers.” Stampen and Hansen (1999), for instance, offered a useful example in estimating different impacts of different policy alternatives in promoting student success in college. In essence, they argued for considering marginal effects of policy alternatives in meeting policy goals, even though they did not propose the concept of “marginal effects” in their writing. They imply that some policy alternatives may have desirable overall effects, but their effects may diminish as the gap between current status and desirable condition narrows. Others may disagree on this by arguing that there is a threshold to pass for policy to have desirable effects. For example,
As a seemingly contradictory note to the previous point, it is also useful to recognize that the effects of one policy may well depend on the existence of other policies. That is, it may not be appropriate to pit one policy against the other because they may interact to affect student postsecondary decision and success. In addition, there are multiple policy objectives policy makers need to achieve; diversifying policy initiatives could meet multiple needs of the society while gaining broader political support from the public.
Reading this book and many other policy reports also leaves me puzzling about the lack of consideration in current policy debates of involving parents or families in promoting student college success. It is critical to examine how policies targeting students, schools, and higher education institutions can promote student success (Stampen and Hansen, 1999), but the sociological and higher education literatures (see, Hossler, Schmit, and Vesper, 1999) have also unequivocally documented the importance of parental or family involvement in the student educational attainment process. Policy proposals and programs that can effectively encourage parental or family involvement will maximize student postsecondary success.
In sum, this is a fine compilation of provocative policy proposals that will prove valuable for policy makers in formulating policies to meet the challenge of “doubling the numbers” of underrepresented youth gaining postsecondary credentials. It is also an exemplary work that demonstrates how higher education theories and research can be effectively translated into actionable knowledge to inform policy and practice in promoting student educational opportunities.
Hossler, D., Schmit, J., and Vesper, N. (1999). Going to college: How social, economic, and educational factors influence the decisions students make.
Stampen, J. O., and Hansen, W. L. (1999). Improving higher education access and persistence: New directions from a “systems” perspective. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21, 417-426.
Terenzini, P. T. (1996). Rediscovering the roots: Public policy
and higher education research. Review of Higher Education,