Perceptions and experiences of former Upward Bound participants of the effectiveness of the program in supporting low socio-economic Hispanic students
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TRIO programs are federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantage backgrounds (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Within TRIO, Upward Bound is a pre-college initiative that offers an array of academic and cultural activities structured to encourage enrollment, retention, and degree completion from an institution of higher education. Upward Bound programs serve first-generation, low-socioeconomic students from underrepresented demographics. For the purpose of this study, first-generation status was defined as neither parent having earned a bachelor’s degree (Pell Institute, 2008) and low socio-economic status was defined as having an average household annual income under $39,563 and family size of five in 2017 (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). First-generation, low socio-economic college going students are those who meet both of these criteria (U.S. Department of Education, 2016b). Since its inception, the Upward Bound program has influenced students’ aspirations and goals of attending college, by providing support mechanisms for underrepresented and low socio-economic students. Upward Bound has been subjected to budget challenges due to the evaluation of federal programs. This has been because of Upward Bound’s methodology and conflicting program outcomes based on research studies. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the perceptions and experiences of former Upward Bound participants about the effectiveness of the program in supporting low socio-economic Hispanic students. Of specific interests in this study are the perceptions of these former participants and how their participation affected their college success, what services provided by the program were the most beneficial or detrimental, as well as what recommendations they have to improve the services provided by the program to better support Hispanic undergraduate students. An intrinsic case study methodology was utilized to address the four research questions that guided this study. The study was framed by Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory and the tenet of self-efficacy (Zimmerman, 1989). There were a total of ten participants who were enrolled in a large, public research institution in Texas and completed the Upward Bound at the same institution. Data was collected through means such as the researcher, semi-structured interviews, field notes, reflexive journaling, and institutional documents. The constant-comparative method and open coding were utilized to analyze the collected data. Additionally, trustworthiness was included in the research process. The overall findings of this study support that the participants perceived that the Upward Bound program provided valuable mechanisms that supported their success in higher education as first-generation, low socio-economic Hispanic college going students. Their perceptions were supported through their experiences gained while participating in the Upward Bound program and their recent college experiences. Three major themes emerged from the analysis of the findings of each of the four research questions. Research question one produced the following themes: 1) summer bridge programs are important to student success; 2) tutoring is a factor in college readiness; and 3) college tours expose students to other options for college. Research question two produced the following themes: 1) self-efficacy is an important factor for student development; 2) it is very important to guide students in achieving their goals; and 3) equity is very important in higher education. Research question three produced the following themes: 1) Academic Saturdays are effective in supporting students; 2) motivational speakers are positive role models; and 3) mentoring and advising is fundamental to student success. Research question four produced the following themes: 1) implementation of new programming during Academic Saturdays; 2) the format of tutoring; and 3) Forming Self-esteem and confidence. The results of this study led to several implications for higher education practice. The first implication to higher education suggests that without college preparatory programs, a significant number of students will not be ready to attend institutions of higher education when they finish high school. The second implication for institutions of higher education suggests limiting the options of high school graduates to explore universities before deciding which school to attend could lead students to make uninformed decisions. The third implication for higher education institutions suggests that if the number of students that graduate high school without a financial plan to be able to attend college keeps increasing, then the college enrollment for recent high school graduates will decrease. The fourth implication for institutions of higher education suggests that without the proper personal and academic mentoring, underrepresented students such as first-generation, low socio-economic students will not be able to relate to others that have faced the same challenges and have a role model who they can follow. The fifth implication for institutions of higher education suggests that the time a student can spend before actually enrolling in college credit classes can depend significantly on the score students obtain in college admittance exams. Therefore, it is important for students to excel in these tests. The findings of this study produced several recommendations for higher education practice. The first recommendation is that institutions of higher education should create first-year programs for first-generation, low socio-economic college going students to engage them in the college atmosphere and make them feel that they also count and are important. The second recommendation is that institutions of higher education should allocate more resources in order to send admissions recruiters to visit high schools that are located in rural places, ensuring that high school graduates have an opportunity to learn more about different colleges and universities. The third recommendation is that institutions of higher education should create alliances or partnerships with high schools to institute the importance of higher education and financial literacy early in high school students. The fourth recommendation is that institutions of higher education should encourage their faculty to participate in mentoring programs for first-generation, low socio-economic college going students. The fifth recommendation is that institutions of higher education that currently host Upward Bound programs in their campuses continue developing the programs and expand the search for talent in high schools.