|April 20, 2000
Volume 30 Number 18
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Upward Bound Tracks Impressive Results
Students study at the conference table dominating the middle of the Upward Bound Alumni Center. Other students work at the computers that line the walls. A sofa provides a more casual place to read or talk. The alumni center is only one of the innovative programs CSU, Chico's Upward Bound program has created.
As David Ferguson, director of Upward Bound, talked about the program components, he often said, "There are very few Upward Bounds who do this." There are very few that provide the alumni centers and support or the intensive summer program or the opportunities for career development and internships that CSU, Chico does. Given all this support, what effect has it had on the students?
Upward Bound, one of the last remaining federally funded War on Poverty programs, was originally designed to help students graduate from high school. Now the programs consider the percentage of students going on to college and graduating as a measure of success. Upward Bound staff meet with high school students once or twice a week during the academic year. As students approach graduation, contact increases to include phone calls and a variety of workshops.
In an era of increased demand for accountability, CSU, Chico led the way with research and a report on outcomes, The Upward Bound Ten-Year Study of Program Graduates. Ferguson and the Upward Bound staff developed a methodology and a model for tracking outcomes. They started with a stated goal: "Forty-five percent of the participants from each Upward Bound graduating class entering postsecondary programs will demonstrate continuous progress or graduate within six years." When they tracked alumni from 1986 to 1995, they were surprised -- 68 percent of the alums have either graduated (20 percent) or are working toward their educational goals (48 percent). The report concluded that the project's students "graduated from high school and entered postsecondary education at a much higher rate than all students -- from low-income and first-generation backgrounds as well as from more advantaged backgrounds."
The trends were also encouraging. The percentage of students in successive graduating classes who continue and complete their education is rising.
Ferguson describes this report as "unique among Upward Bounds." While other programs do some tracking, "seldom do they ever go back that far and devise a tracking system."
Upward Bound staff decided to conduct the study for three reasons. Ferguson said, "You can't really make a presentation, at least to anybody in education, about Upward Bound without being asked, 'Okay, if your purpose is success post secondary, what's your success rate?' And before [the study] we honestly couldn't tell them that."
Since the passage of the Government Program Results Act, programs must demonstrate results. "Accountability is very real now," Ferguson said.
The third reason to evaluate the program was to compare Chico's experience with the results of a national evaluation of Upward Bound by Mathematica Policy Research. That evaluation attributed minimal effect on student outcomes to Upward Bound. People involved in Upward Bound programs challenged the result, pointing to the number of students in the control group who received services, albeit not Upward Bound services.
What makes the Chico program successful? Ferguson said they don't really know the answer yet, but they hope to use the data collected to determine who is most successful and which programs are most effective. He believes the success probably comes from the intensive way Upward Bound staff works with students and from innovative programs like the career exploration program. Students often work at entry-level jobs in areas that interest them as possible careers, much like the internships for college students. "One of the things is that we've had a very cooperative relationship with the private industry councils of the counties we serve," Ferguson said.
"For the last three years we have done what are called task teams, and there's no other place in the country that does that." In the summer program, task teams of six students work together to create something. The first year, one of the teams developed a promotional video for Upward Bound.
Between 300 and 400 copies of the video were distributed to schools. "Basically they had thirty-eight hours to do this," explained Ferguson. During that time they had to develop a budget, an action plan, and the skills to actually create the video, and they had to analyze the skills they were developing.
Ferguson commented on the success of Upward Bound over the past three decades: "It's one of the few remaining War on Poverty programs left, and it has thrived. There are astronauts, college presidents, and representatives in Congress who are products of this program. They say that they would never be where they are today if it hadn't been for this program." -- BA
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