National College Access Network
Early Awareness Strategies for College Access and Success
What Does the Research Say about Early Awareness Strategies for College Access and Success?
Postsecondary early awareness strategies are a fast-growing component of college access to attainment efforts. Broadly defined, these programs and policies encourage low-income and first-generation students to gain the information, skills, and resources they need to successfully take part in higher education. They focus on students in fifth through eighth grades, to communicate that education beyond high school is an option, and to help them understand the steps they must take to prepare.
The primary goal of this report is to provide information that will be the basis for future program creation and policy discussions about early awareness interventions. Early awareness programs fall into one of several categories:
*the federal GEAR UP cohort model, and
*college savings accounts.
Current evidence suggests that each of these models can be successful, but at varying degrees and with a wide range in cost.
A secondary goal emerged during evaluation of available early awareness research: to encourage additional rigorous, longitudinal evaluations of early awareness programs. The majority of early awareness interventions are at the state and local level, and the quantity and quality of program reviews vary greatly. In some cases within this paper, we rely on data from internal evaluation or qualitative information due to a lack of data from controlled evaluation methods. In particular, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of early awareness programs and their end goal -matriculation and attainment in higher education – because of additional interventions and factors that students experience during high school. Additionally, following students from their time in early awareness programs throughout their time in higher education requires more than a decade of longitudinal tracking. Interim success outcomes, such as enrolling in college preparatory curriculum or taking standardized tests in junior year, should be considered.
While the research demonstrates that early awareness strategies should continue to be part of the college access and success continuum, it is also clear that any intervention should be designed with specific indicators and outcome measures. Additionally, policy-makers should be wary of any one particular program or intervention that promises to be a silver bullet and rather view early awareness strategies as the first step of an integrated plan for student success.
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