Widening participation in the USA

Preparing for study: a new approach to WP in the US

The Chronicle carries a story on a new report about student readiness for higher education in the US.

The proposition contained in a new report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities is that institutions have to be more involved in earlier stages of education if they want to improve students’ preparedness for higher education.

The report, written by a dozen college presidents and released here at the association’s annual meeting, calls on its member campuses to begin preparing students as early as preschool, helping children to acquire the building blocks of a successful academic career. And to have the greatest impact, the report says, colleges should focus on areas with high concentrations of poverty, where children have the greatest disadvantages in academic preparation.
Specifically, the report recommends four approaches that every member campus should be involved in: improving teacher-preparation programs, increasing the availability of dual-credit classes, aligning elementary and secondary curricula with college expectations, and giving high schools reports on how their graduates are performing in college.

This approach shares a number of features with the programmes for widening participation undertaken by all UK universities but goes some way further and indeed bears a strong resemblance to the recent introduction of Nottingham Potential at the University of Nottingham.

Working with education charity IntoUniversity, Nottingham Potential is expanding the University’s work with children from as young as Year 2 (age 7) and supporting the transition to secondary school and beyond, by providing a pathway that helps to raise attainment and aspirations.

Two of three new IntoUniversity Centres have now opened in local communities and are providing vital after-school Academic Support sessions for years 2 – 13, as well as theme-based study days for partner schools. In addition, local secondary and post-16 teachers are being offered access to funds and support to lead projects designed to improve life in their communities.

The University is also supporting pupils’ attainment through programmes in primary schools for literacy, numeracy and English as an additional language. Beyond this the programme is extending secondary and post-16 outreach work by delivering more school and college activities, as well as additional on-campus masterclasses and summer schools.

The commonalities are interesting but the AASC report does go further. Aligning school and university curricula is, of course, a live issue in England at the moment with the Secretary of State’s strong desire for HE to become more involved in A Level syllabi. Moreover, I’m not sure how good universities are at providing updates for secondary schools on the progress of their students.


1 thought on “Widening participation in the USA

  1. This is a thought-provoking comment, and it does look as though US universities are taking a more ambitious and generous view of schools partnerships than is the case in most European countries. Clearly the Nottingham initiative is one to watch.

    It is interesting to see that AASCU recommends closer involvement in teacher preparation. Teacher education provides universities with one of their most significant points of entry into their local community, and presents significant opportunities for contribution to regeneration and renewal. Sadly, recent changes in teacher training in England, combined with a narrow and short-sighted focus on research, have combined to reduce the attractiveness of teacher education to our elite universities. And it is not clear how this can be tackled without significant shifts in attitude by government ministers and senior managers.

    My final comment is that as well as improving schools in our least-advantaged, most stigmatised communities, universities need to maintain strong part-time programmes and other second chance opportunities. Widening participation to talented youngsters is highly desirable, but we also need to respond to those talented people who were failed by the same schools that we now propose to reform. This must mean a much stronger lifelong learning system than we possess at the moment.

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