In today's knowledge-based economy, a college education has become a prerequisite for postacademic success. "The opportunity to go to college is perhaps the ultimate testament to the American dream." (Cabrera, et al., 2000). Unfortunately, some students never get the opportunity to realize the dream of a college education. Only 7% of young people from low-income families graduate from college by age 24, compared with 48% of their high-income counterparts (Mortenson, 1997). Outreach programs, which prepare students for success in postsecondary education at an early age, are some of the best defenses against leaving a substantial portion of our children out of the opportunity equation.
Outreach programs generally target students before they reach the 8th grade
— although some also aim for high school students
— in an attempt to prepare them for the challenging coursework and standardized testing that lies ahead. Recent brain research has shown that more than half of what a person learns over a lifetime is learned before age five (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Further research has shown that students who do not take algebra in the 8th grade will most likely never go to college (Education Commission of the States, 2001). The importance of early outreach
— programs that target young students before it is too late
— has become a primary focus of education policy. Currently there are 1,091 programs nationwide across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam (College Board, 2001).
Outreach first became a national priority in the 1960s as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Upward Bound, Talent Search and Student Support Services, collectively known as TRIO programs, were some of the early interventions undertaken to reach at-risk students. While student financial aid programs help students overcome financial barriers to higher education, TRIO programs help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education (Council for Opportunity in Education, 2001). There are now six TRIO programs that account for one-third of all outreach programs in the country today (College Board, 2001).
In 1998, as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education created the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEARUP). GEARUP creates community partnerships that focus resources on college-preparation programs, as well as tutoring and mentoring for low-income youth. Across the country, states are coming up with their own outreach programs in an effort to truly leave no child behind. California has invested heavily in outreach, allocating nearly $40 million annually to support at-risk middle and high school students. Community organizations like the I Have a Dream Foundation also provide outreach services through 180 programs across the country.
P-16 education (preschool, K-12, postsecondary), which links all education levels into a seamless system of education, is another way states are trying to reach students at an early age and increase their chances of attending college. Across the country, in places like Georgia; El Paso, Texas; and New York City, policymakers are turning to P-16 as a way of closing achievement gaps and increasing college access. In Georgia, the state with the country's longest-running P-16 system, achievements include increased enrollment in preschools, changes in students' course-taking patterns and a rising number of college-ready high school graduates (Education Commission of the States, 2001).
Outreach programs increase opportunities for disadvantaged students across the country and allow students to succeed where they otherwise might have failed. The programs provide a solid academic foundation to at-risk students, helping them to realize their dreams of a college education.
The College Board (2001). Outreach Program Handbook. Washington, DC.
Council for Opportunity in Education (2001). What Is TRIO? Washington, DC:COE.
Education Commission of the States (2001). Starting Early, Starting Now: A Policymaker's Guide to Early Care and Education and School Success. Denver, CO: ECS.
Education Commission of the States (2001). What is P-16 Education? Denver, CO: ECS.
Mortenson, Thomas G. (1997). Research Seminar on Public Policy Analysis of Opportunity for Postsecondary.
Swail, Scott (2000). "Preparing America's Disadvantaged for College: Programs That Increase College Opportunity." In Understanding the College Choice of Disadvantaged Students, Alberto F. Cabrera and Steven M. La Nasa, Eds. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
U.S. Department of Education (1997). Mathematics Equals Opportunity. Washington, DC: USDE.
U.S. Department of Education (2001). GEARUP: A Capstone for Reform. Washington, DC: USDE.