You are seeing this message because your web browser does not support basic web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing and what you can do to make your experience on this site better.

The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

Mehmet Öztürk discusses findings from a review of evaluations of programs at selective colleges and universities to be used for improving undergraduate academic outcomes for underrepresented minority or disadvantaged students.

African American, Latino, and Native American undergraduates are severely underrepresented in the student bodies of the nation's selective colleges and universities.1 They also are acutely underrepresented among graduates with high grade point averages and in terms of class rankings.2 These patterns can continue into graduate and professional schools.3

The Consortium for High Academic Performance (CHAP) at the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California, Berkeley, spent 2 years gathering information on programs designed to improve academic outcomes for underrepresented minority or disadvantaged undergraduates. Over 100 strategies and programs housed at public and private research universities and private liberal arts colleges were examined nationwide. Most, though not all, programs focused on science, math, or engineering majors. Methods included extensive literature and document review, site visits, and dialogue with program directors, faculty, senior administrators, and students.

The purpose was to identify proven or promising programs that could be replicated. Proven programs were defined as those demonstrating measurable impacts on grade point average (GPA), according to an evaluation using an experimental design that had to have been replicated in at least one additional site. Promising programs were defined as those that did not meet these design criteria but showed promising GPA outcomes.

The search uncovered no proven programs; it did, however, uncover several promising programs with sufficient GPA data to suggest that they contributed to meaningful increases in the number of above-average to top performers.4

The scarcity of rigorous evaluations for these types of programs can be traced to several possible causes. One is shortage of resources. Most programs operate on very tight budgets and have small staffs; thus, resources tend to be invested directly in the students being served. Resource constraints also limit the development of new or modified programs. Few external funders (foundations and government agencies) invest systematically in ongoing development and evaluation of these programs, particularly from a high-achievement (i.e., high GPA) perspective. Furthermore, few selective colleges and universities seem to invest much of their own resources in operating or evaluating programs serving these students. Operating programs with quality over time is therefore difficult.

Similarly, institutional mechanisms for training professionals to operate programs demonstrating (or showing promise of) high-achievement impacts are lacking. Thus, even if proven programs were to emerge and efforts made to use them widely, developing and maintaining staff could remain problematic.

These and other findings are described in detail in a recent CHAP report, Increasing African American, Latino, and Native American Representation Among High Achieving Undergraduates at Selective Colleges and Universities.5 The report emphasizes the need for leadership from presidents of selective colleges and universities, heads of foundations with an interest in improving the academic outcomes of underrepresented students in higher education, and leaders of organizations concerned with the educational advancement of underrepresented minorities.

According to the report, leaders will need to focus on establishing large, long-term grant programs to support the development and evaluation of programs that address high achievement among these student populations. Leaders also will need to secure stable funding (e.g., endowments) to sustain proven and promising programs. Finally, they will need to establish mechanisms for training professionals to replicate programs.

Additionally, the report illustrates the kinds of rigorous evaluations needed by offering specific design suggestions using three promising programs as examples. Also provided are examples of variations of these programs that need to be tested and evaluated.

1 U.S. News & World Report. (2005). America's best colleges: 2005 edition.
2 Cole, S., & Barber, E. (2003). Increasing faculty diversity: The occupational choices of high-achieving minority students. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3 See the following for more information: Bowen, W. G., & Bok, D. (1998). The shape of the river: Long-term consequences of considering race in college and university admissions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; and Sander, R. H. (2005). A systematic evaluation of affirmative action in American law schools. Stanford Law Review, 57(3), 376–483.
4 Other promising programs may exist that were not identified for this search.
5 Miller L. S. (with Öztürk, M. D., & Chavez, L.). (2005). Increasing African American, Latino, and Native American representation among high achieving undergraduates at selective colleges and universities. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, Institute for the Study of Social Change.

Mehmet D. Öztürk, Ph.D.
Principal Management Research Analyst
Office of the Vice President for University–School Partnerships
Office of the Dean
College of Education
Arizona State University
Tel: 480-965-3696

‹ Previous Article | Table of Contents | Next Article ›

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project