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Evaluation Efforts


Ninety-four percent of early intervention programs report that they conduct program evaluations, according to the National Survey of Outreach Programs. About three-fourths report that they track program completion, 64 percent report that they track high school graduation and 29 percent track graduation from college. In their review of relevant literature, Schultz & Mueller of Wilder Research (2006) provided information on the following features associated with effective programs.

  • Academic preparation: Ensuring access to a college preparatory curriculum appears to be a critical component for helping students gain access to a college education. Rigorous mathematics courses during high school remain an important predictor of successful college completion (Adelman, 1999; Adelman, 2006).

  • Peer support and mentoring: Social support appears to influence college decisions (Perna, 2000), and mentors play important roles for helping underrepresented students navigate obstacles (Levine & Nidiffer, 1996).

  • Intervene before high school and provide long-term support: Early awareness programs can help facilitate a student's high school curricular plans by ensuring preparation for rigorous classes prior to ninth grade (Perna, 2002). Some studies have shown that benefits for students are greater the longer they participate in a program (Gandara & Bial, 2001).

  • Help students with college admissions and financial aid applications: Programs with the strongest evidence for effectiveness included this type of support (Wilder Research, 2006).

  • Systemic reform: An example of system-level change is the alignment of high school requirements with college entry requirements, because this appears to help underrepresented students gain access and succeed in college (Martinez & Klopott, 2005).

However, rigorous evaluation of programs to improve postsecondary education enrollment and success is limited (Schultz & Mueller, 2006). Therefore, the evidence of effectiveness is limited, and there are things we do not know about early intervention programs:

  • Few studies include control groups, so it is difficult to attribute the impact to the program.

  • Selection criteria for program participation is usually not reported, so little is known about which students are most likely to benefit.

  • Little is known about the cost-effectiveness of most programs, and it is often unclear which program features are most effective.

  • Studies often lack clear or consistent measurable outcomes.


Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in a toolbox: Academic intensity, attendance patterns, and bachelor's degree attainment. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Research and Improvement.

Adelman, C. (2006). The toolbox revisited: Paths to degree completion from high school through college. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Gandara, P., & Bial, D. (2001). Paving the way to postsecondary education: K-12 interventions for underrepresented youth. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics.

Levine, A., & Nidiffer, J. (1996). Beating the odds: How the poor get to college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Martinez, M., & Klopott, S. (2005). The link between high school reform and college access and success for low-income and minority youth. Washington, D.C.: American Youth Policy Forum and Pathways to College Network.

Perna, L.W. (2000). Promoting college enrollment through early intervention. ERIC Review: Early Intervention: Expanding access to higher education, 8, (1), 4-9.

Perna, L.W. (2002). Pre-college outreach programs: Characteristics of programs serving historically underrepresented groups of students. Journal of College Student Development, 43, (1), 64-83.

Schultz, J.L., & Mueller, D. (2006). Effectiveness of programs to improve postsecondary education enrollment and success of underrepresented youth: A literature review. St. Paul, MN: Wilder Research.