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Reaching a Hand to Secondary School Students: It works

Aurora Brief Reviews No. 12 March 17 2020

March 2020

Contribution by Helena Gillespie, University of East Anglia

American Institutes for Research recently published a summary of the their studies into Early College High Schools. The initiative is rooted in the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who first invested in setting up these schools in 2002. The schools were aimed at enabling students for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups in the USA get into college. The report is useful because from the outset it highlights that barriers to attending higher education are not simply financial. Studies we have undertaken in the U.K. show that simply helping students level up financially don’t impact positively on degree outcomes for students from the target groups and this report sets out three causes of lower progression rates to higher education for the students from low income backgrounds and also for students of colour; firstly, there are cultural barriers around academic success, secondly students from these groups may not be well prepared the types of assessment they meet in college, and finally there are some financial barriers.

The study bases its findings on high-reliability randomized controlled trials (of a type being considered for some interventions to widen participation in the U.K.) and follow up studies have also been undertaken. The evidence shows that the initiative is highly successful at enabling students from the target groups to be successful in higher education.

The recommendations are largely at educational policy level and as such there may be little that individual Higher Education Institutions can take from the study, but there are some useful insights for all those working in high schools and interested in enabling students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their potential in Higher Education.

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