Alternative College Prep Programs Research Paper Starter

Alternative College Prep Programs

Alternative college preparatory programs provide different ways for students to increase their chances of going to college. Federal TRIO programs, such as Upward Bound and Talent Search, and the federal GEAR UP program are examined. Information about federally funded programs and examples of local, state, and privately funded college preparation programs are also included as well as key components for an effective college preparation program.

Keywords Advanced Placement; College Preparation; College Readiness; GEAR UP; High School Exit Exams; High-Stakes Testing; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Standardized Testing; Supplemental Instruction; Talent Search; TRIO Programs; Upward Bound


An effective college preparation program offers students a variety of services that can help them develop the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to succeed in college. College preparation programs can provide students with information and personal experiences to help make the experience more relevant to them. College preparation programs can include instruction in specific content areas, special programs in the summer, counseling, tutoring, college campus visits, and mentoring (Oesterreich, 2000).

There are differing views as to what exactly college preparation and readiness means and how it is measured. Some feel that students who complete a college-preparatory curriculum are considered prepared for college, while others contend that students who score above a certain level on an admissions or college placement test are prepared for college (Olson, 2006). College readiness may be defined as having the skills and knowledge college professors deem necessary to successfully complete college-level coursework. It can also be defined as the skills necessary to cope with more ambiguous learning tasks that students do not encounter in high school; critical thinking, analytical thinking, and problem-solving skills. This includes the ability to be able to express oneself in writing and orally, draw inferences and reach conclusions independently, and discern the importance and credibility of various sources of information. In most states, each college and university defines its own admissions standards and how well students must perform on certain assessments to avoid having to take remedial courses. This makes it difficult to define what is truly necessary to prepare students for college (Olson, 2006).

With all the differing definitions of college readiness, there is little wonder that secondary instructors and college professors disagree about how prepared for college students actually are. One survey found that 31 percent of high-school instructors felt their students were prepared for college, yet only 13 percent of college professors surveyed agreed with that assessment (Olson, 2006). Either way, those percentages are quite low and indicate a need for increased college preparation programs or more assistance for students and curricular changes to enable students to persist and succeed in college.

College Preparation Programs

There are several federally funded college preparation programs currently available for students. The largest programs are Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, and Talent Search, which all fall under the TRIO program, and GEAR UP.

As part of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Congress originally developed three programs expected to help low-income students enter college and graduate. These programs were called TRIO programs because there were originally just three programs (Council for Opportunity in Education, n.d.). However, there are currently eight different programs that fall under TRIO and are administered by the U.S. Department of Education (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a), and three of them-Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math-Science, and Talent Search-are intended for middle school and high school students. Unlike financial aid programs, whose intent is to help students overcome the financial barriers that may prevent them from enrolling in postsecondary education, these programs provide outreach and support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and are expected to aid students in defeating their prescribed class, social, and cultural barriers that may hinder them in going to college (Council for Opportunity in Education, n.d.). TRIO programs serve mainly students with low-income parents, who are the first in their families to attend college, or who have disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a).

Upward Bound

The Upward Bound program offers support to high-school students to help them prepare for college by succeeding in their classes and ultimately in college. This program serves students from low-income families and students from families where neither parent has a college degree. Upward Bound also helps low-income, first-generation military veterans who need help arranging for and anticipating postsecondary education. The program’s initiative is to improve the high school completion rate and advance the number of students who attend and graduate from college. All Upward Bound projects are required to educate their students in mathematics, laboratory sciences, English composition, literature, and foreign languages. The program also supports:

• Academic, financial, and/or personal counseling;

• Programs that expose students to academic programs and cultural events;

• Tutoring services;

• Mentoring programs;

• Exposure to postsecondary education programs and services;

• Assistance in finishing and submitting college-entrance and financial-aid applications;

• Assistance in studying for college-entrance examinations; and

• Work-study programs that can expose students to careers that require a postsecondary degree (U.S. Department of Education, 2007b).

The estimated funding allocation for 2007 for Upward Bound was over $279 million with over 800 programs funded nationwide. In 2006, over 61,000 students participated in Upward Bound (U.S. Department of Education, 2007c).

Upward Bound Math-Science

The Upward Bound Math-Science program funds specialized mathematics and science centers. The goals of the services are to make the mathematics and science skills of students more powerful and able, to aid students in recognizing and develop their potential to do well in mathematics and science, and to encourage students to pursue degrees in mathematics and science. The Upward Bound Math-Science program supports

• Summer programs that include intensive mathematics and science training,

• Programs that provide continuous counseling and advising for students,

• Programs that provide students with the availability of postsecondary faculty members who conduct research in mathematics and science fields,

• Programs that provide computer access and training, and

• Programs that can provide students with the opportunity to conduct scientific research under the supervision of college faculty members or graduate students who also agree to serve as mentors to participants (U.S. Department of Education, 2007d).

The Upward Bound Math-Science program is much smaller than the regular Upward Bound program. The estimated funding allocation for 2007 is over 34 million, with almost 130 programs funded nationwide. In 2006, over 6,700 students participated in Upward Bound Math-Science (U.S. Department of Education, 2007e).

Talent Search

The Talent Search program's aim is to identify and assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may be able to succeed in college if provided with the right opportunities. Talent Search provides counseling and encouragement to participants with a variety of support services. This program “also serves high school dropouts by encouraging them to come back to school and finish their education. The primary goal of Talent Search is to increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who complete high school and enroll in college” (Dodd, 2006, ¶ 4). Services supported by the Talent Search program are made up of academic, financial, career-based, and personal counseling; assistance on reentry into secondary programs and/or enrolling in college; career exploration services; aptitude assessment and counseling; “tutoring services; information on postsecondary education; exposure to college campuses and services; information about student financial assistance; help in completing college-admissions and financial-aid applications; assistance in preparing for college-entrance examinations; mentoring programs; special activities for sixth, seventh, and eight graders” to introduce them to the possibility of college; and workshops for families of program participants (U.S. Department of Education, 2007f, ¶ 2). The estimated funding allocation for Talent Search for 2007 is over $144 million with no new programs funded. In 2006, almost 400,000 students in over 500 programs participated in Talent Search (U.S. Department of Education, 2007g).


GEAR UP was created in 1998 and stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (Burd, 2003). It is a funding program intended to maximize the number of impoverished students who are college-bound. GEAR UP offers states six-year grants that aid in helping low-income middle schools and high schools. Unlike the Upward Bound and Talent Search programs, which focus on individual students, GEAR UP provides its services to a broad range of students and begins their service from the seventh grade onward. GEAR UP “offers state and partnership grants. State grants are six-year matching grants that must include both early intervention and scholarship components....

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