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Transitions to College: Lessons from the Disciplines

by William Trent, Margaret Terry Orr, Sheri Ranis & Jennifer Holdaway - 2007


Prior research on the challenges of college going and retention among adolescents today, particularly low-income, minority, and first-generation college-going youth, provide the context for this article.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:

This article sets the stage for the special issue articles by framing the issue’s purpose and content. The purpose is to synthesize existing research and knowledge about the adolescent college transition from multiple disciplines and fields, in order to develop a more robust foundation for further research and policy development. The article also describes the knowledge development process used by the Social Science Research Council and its advisory committee to support field and discipline based literature reviews and to synthesize their implications over an 18 month period.


The article provides a summary of the articles presented in the special issue and a summary of the committee’s recommendations, as framed in a separate publication, Questions That Matter. It explains that the six discipline and field-based essays (history, demography, anthropology, sociology, economics, and higher education) presented in the special issue reflect a discussion of the organization of research in each field and characterizes the contributions of each field to our understanding of transitions. Together these are a rich collection of essays that map the state of the respective fields by identifying key topics and the research questions posed.


The authors conclude by drawing attention to two primary points: key elements of the challenge to improvements in research and persisting conceptual issues that challenge research, policy and practice.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 10, 2007, p. 2207-2221
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12594, Date Accessed: 9/17/2021 7:14:55 PM

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About the Author
  • William Trent
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    WILLIAM T. TRENT received his doctorate in sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently a Spencer Resident Fellow. Trent's research centers on K-12 and postsecondary educational inequality. He is currently principal investigator for an IES funded project examining pathways to careers in the academy for students of color.
  • Margaret Orr
    Bank Street College
    E-mail Author
    MARGARET TERRY ORR, PhD, is on the faculty of Bank Street College, in the Department of Educational Leadership, where she is completing an 18-month documentation study of college-access programs for the Lumina Foundation. Orr has studied and written about a wide range of youth development and college transition programs over the past 30 years, including career academies, Tech-Prep, secondary/postsecondary educational partnerships, and systemic school reform efforts which emphasize adolescent development and transitions. Her work has been published in numerous books and peer-reviewed journals, and presented at national professional conferences.
  • Sheri Ranis
    Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    SHERI H. RANIS is Senior Research Officer in the US Programs/Education Division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation in 2005, Ranis was Program Director for Education at the Social Science Research Council. Most recently she has served as co-editor of several new and upcoming publications concerning under-represented youth and their transition to college including the report “Questions that Matter” released by the Social Science Research Council and the Institute for Higher Education Policy in 2005. She also was a guest co-editor for the Winter 2006 edition of the Review of Research in Education focused on the No Child Left Behind Act. Ranis has served as a reviewer for a number of academic journals and competitions. She received her degrees from Smith College and Columbia University, including a PhD in education from Columbia’s Teachers College.
  • Jennifer Holdaway
    Social Science Research Council
    JENNIFER HOLDAWAY is Associate Director of the Migration Program at the Social Science Research Council. She coordinates the Working Group on Education and Migration, which is examining the educational experiences of children of immigrants in the United States and North America. She also directs the Transitions to College Program.
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