Eric.ed.gov – Closing the Gap: An Overview of the Literature on College Persistence and Underrepresented Populations

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Access to and persistence through higher education can significantly impact occupational stability and mental wellness in the United States (U.S.), with higher levels of education contributing to increased employability and wellness. Empirical research suggests that college attendance improves verbal communication, moral reasoning, and critical thinking skills (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) and has been linked to lower unemployment rates, greater job satisfaction, lower reliance on public assistance programs, lower rates of obesity, and other health and wellness outcomes (Baum, Ma, & Payea, 2013). Furthermore, attaining a college degree is a key factor in improving one’s earnings and long-term financial stability. For example, recent research found that among full-time employed young adults between the ages of 25 and 34, those with a bachelor’s degree earned more, on average, than those with a high school diploma ($48,500 vs. $30,000) (Kena et al., 2015). Further research indicated that additional years of education result in higher wages over time, and that each year of education adds more to personal income than previous years (Autor, 2010). The recognized value of college degree attainment is reflected in the number of people in the U.S. pursuing and earning degrees. Among U.S. adults age 25 and over, the percentage who held a bachelor’s degree increased from 21% in 1990 to 33% in 2015 (Snyder, de Brey, & Dillow, 2016). Accompanying this trend is a shrinking proportion of children and young people whose parents did not attend college. In 1980, 77% of high school sophomores’ parents had not enrolled in postsecondary education; by 2002, the percentage had declined to 62% (Cahalan, Ingels, Burns, Planty, & Daniel, 2006). While this decline is notable, there is still a sizable group of U.S. undergraduate students whose parents did not attend college. In 2011-2012, it was estimated to account for approximately one-third of all college students (Skomsvold, 2014). Despite the overall increase in degree attainment on a national level, a large gap in college attendance and degree attainment remains between underrepresented students and their peers. For example, a 2018 report by the NCES that relied upon longitudinal data on college-going and persistence among first-generation college students found that academic and cognitive inequalities between first-generation students and their peers dated back to high school performance data. Proportionally, fewer first-generation students had completed some AP/IB credits (18% vs. 44%) or high-level math courses (27% vs. 43%) and calculus (7% vs. 22%). This literature review is the first in a series of three publications exploring college persistence among underrepresented populations. As the first report, this serves as a jumping off point to the topic, providing a broad overview of key statistics along with a list of widely documented barriers to persistence and existing interventions to improve persistence using national data and existing literature. It identifies barriers to college degree attainment, highlights empirically tested strategies and interventions to improve persistence, and provides an overview of potential next steps for educators, practitioners, and researchers.

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Troels Gannerup Christensen

Jeg er ansat som adjunkt hos Læreruddannelsen i Jelling, hvor jeg underviser i matematik, specialiseringsmodulet teknologiforståelse, praktik m.m. Jeg har tidligere været ansat som pædagogisk konsulent i matematik og tysk hos UCL ved Center for Undervisningsmidler (CFU) i Vejle og lærer i udskolingen (7.-9. klasse) på Lyshøjskolen i Kolding. Jeg er ejer af og driver bl.a. hjemmesiderne www.lærklokken.dk og www.iundervisning.dk, ggbkursus.dk og er tidligere fagredaktør på matematik på emu.dk. Jeg går ind for, at læring skal være let tilgængelig og i størst mulig omfang gratis at benytte.

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