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College access programs

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Health Factors

College access programs help underrepresented students, often high or low performing, low income, and first generation high school students, prepare academically for higher education and complete the college entry process (IES WWC-Tierney 2009). Programs may include whole school reforms or supplementary student services, and may include counseling, social enrichment, academic enrichment, mentoring, parental involvement, or scholarships. Programs that support college access can be funded by federal, state, local, and non-profit funds (US ED-Harvill 2012). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased college enrollment

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that college access programs increase college enrollment (US ED-Harvill 2012, ). Research suggests that effective programs begin in ninth grade with college awareness and college readiness components (), and guide eleventh and twelfth grade students through the college application and financial aid processes (IES WWC-Tierney 2009). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm characteristics of the most effective programs.

Providing college application guidance, financial information, and application fee waivers can increase college applications and enrollments at selective universities (IES WWC-College opportunities 2014). A Northwest Ohio-based study suggests that college access programs increase knowledge about the college application, admission, and financial aid process among high school students in rural areas (Hedrick 2013).

Researchers recommend that schools disseminate college and financial information beginning in ninth grade, offer individual assistance, and advise teachers of upcoming milestones. Researchers also recommend partnering with local colleges and high school alumni attending them, arranging or assisting with campus visits, and offering separate financial workshops for parents and students. Schools can help families by detailing potential costs and sources of aid and assisting them with the FAFSA process (IES WWC-Tierney 2009). Research also suggests a need for more college access programs that assist students with learning disabilities, especially those with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds ().

Examples of effective programs include Talent Search, Sponsor-a-Scholar, and Ace Plus (US ED-Harvill 2012).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

The Federal TRIO program, a federally supported college access program, served 759,094 low income, first generation college, or disabled students across 2,787 projects in 2014-15 (US ED-TRIO). Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), another federal program to increase college readiness, attendance, and success among low income students, served 570,462 low income students in 2014-2015 (US ED-GEAR UP).

Several states fund college access programs, as in California, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Universities can also operate college access programs; for example, the University of California’s Early Academic Outreach Program and the University of Colorado’s Pre-Collegiate Program (NCSL-CPP).     

Many non-profits also administer college access programs; for example, Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), the “I Have a Dream” program, and Engaging Latino Communities for Education (ENLACE) (NCSL-CPP).

Implementation Resources

IES WWC-Tierney 2009 - Tierney WG, Bailey T, Constantine J, Finkelstein N, Hurd NF. Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2009.

US ED-TRIO - US Department of Education (US ED). Federal TRIO program.

Sponsor-a-Scholar - Philadelphia Futures. Sponsor-a-scholar program.

GCC-ACE - Glendale Community College (GCC). Achieving a College Education (ACE)

US ED-Financial aid - US Department of Education (US ED). Financial aid toolkit.

US ED-TRIO - Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). A profile of the federal TRIO programs and child care access means parents in school program. Washington, DC: US Department of Education (US ED); 2008.

AVID - Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). AVID’s mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US ED-Harvill 2012 - Harvill EL, Maynard RA, Nguyen HTH, Robertson-Kraft C, Tognatta N. Effects of college access programs on college readiness and enrollment: A meta-analysis. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences (IES), US Department of Education (US ED); 2012.

IES WWC-Tierney 2009 - Tierney WG, Bailey T, Constantine J, Finkelstein N, Hurd NF. Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC); 2009.

Le 2016* - Le VN, Mariano LT, Faxon-Mills S. Can college outreach programs improve college readiness? The case of the College Bound, St. Louis program. Research in Higher Education. 2016;57(3):261–287.

Hedrick 2013 - Hedrick J, Light M, Dick J. College Readiness for Rural Youth initiative: Creating a climate for success. Journal of Extension. 2013;51(6):1–5.

King 2009* - King KA. A review of programs that promote higher education access for underrepresented students. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. 2009;2(1):1–15.

IES WWC-College opportunities 2014 - US Department of Education (US ED), Institute of Education Sciences (IES), What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). WWC review of the report: Expanding college opportunities for high-achieving, low income students. 2014.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US ED-TRIO - US Department of Education (US ED). Federal TRIO program.

US ED-TRIO - Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). A profile of the federal TRIO programs and child care access means parents in school program. Washington, DC: US Department of Education (US ED); 2008.

NCSL-CPP - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). College preparatory programs (CPP).

US ED-GEAR UP - US Department of Education (US ED). Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).

Date Last Updated

Jun 2, 2016