What is the impact of college tours on students at the middle school level?
While college attendance rates have been steadily rising over the last thirty years, the rate of improvement has been frustratingly slow because as traditional barriers to college admission, such as cost and discriminatory admission policies, have been reduced, underlying, more serious problems have become apparent. These include a shockingly low high school graduation rate and an absence of college-level academic skills in many of those who do graduate, especially in urban environments and among students of color. These problems have become more serious than some of those traditional barriers.
We began the college tour at my school six years ago to expose our students to the college experience and to put them on the academic track to becoming college-eligible high school seniors. The current research has supported this concept, but more research is necessary. Thus, my goal was to understand some of the short-term and longer-term effects of the tour on students’ opinions about college, academic success and actual college attendance.
Ronald Edmonds Learning Center, M.S. 113
RELC is a middle school in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. We cater to mainly African- American, Caribbean-American and Latino students. Almost 100% of our students qualify financially for free lunch under the federal Title I program. The college tour is a 5-day bus ride tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCUs”) with an intensive academic intervention program.
I examined the students’ report cards over 2 full academic years for those who attended the 2004-05 tour and returned to RELC for the 2005-06 academic year. Specifically, I examined the students’ pre-tour grades with the subsequent period and with the following full academic year to determine whether there was any change.
In order to monitor the progress of the students who recently attended the 2005-06 tour, I had each student’s teacher in their core content classes complete progress reports. The teachers evaluated whether the students had improved in several categories, including homework, tests, projects, effort, attitude and conduct.
I surveyed our college tour alumni to evaluate the long-term effects of the tour. Tour alumni in the junior or senior year of high school and college-eligible alumni (based on age) were questioned about the impact of the tour on their general knowledge and opinions about the college experience and their eventual college choices.
The College Tour had a positive impact on the students, particularly academically, but follow-up is needed to maintain the students’ focus.
The analysis of the students’ grades for the period immediately after the Tour revealed that the majority of the students improved their overall academic averages. This research agrees with the anecdotal feedback that I have received from teachers over the years. However, in the following year, most of the students’ grades declined, emphasizing the need for more consistent follow-up to reinforce the message of the Tour.
Teachers generally noted that the students’ efforts and attitude improved after the Tour.
The progress reports completed by teachers this year provided insight into how effort and conduct were impacted. Both areas improved initially after the tour, but grades appeared to be impacted more strongly.
The tour did positively impact students’ opinions about college and their decisions to pursue a college education.
Although more responses are necessary to make the surveys truly representative, the respondents universally agreed that the tour increased their knowledge about college and their desire to attend. Most importantly, the majority of our tour alumni that we are in contact with are either currently attending college or on the college track at their respective high schools.
Schools districts must increase their support and funding of college tour programs.
Exposure to higher education at an early age is critical for young males, particularly African-American and Hispanic males. The college tour experience is one that can show immediate results in improving academics and behavior, as well as an introduction to the college experience. Schools need strategic and financial support from their regional administrators in order to make these programs more widespread.
College tour programs require follow-up.
The lessons learned through a college tour experience can be quickly forgotten without programs and activities designed to build on the enthusiasm generated by the tour. Most of the existing college preparatory programs target high schools, not middle schools, and sometimes only upperclassmen.
“I sat in the classroom on the tour and now I’m sitting in the classroom for real….it’s kinda big, seeing your dream and then later realizing it…” – Sharif (College Tour ’01, Morehouse College, Class of ’09)