Access to Postsecondary Education for Socioeconomic Disadvantaged


Frempong, G., Ma, X., & Mensah, J. (2012). Access to postsecondary education: can schools compensate for socioeconomic disadvantage?. Higher Education, 63(1), 19-32.


The analysis of access to postsecondary education is essential to me as I embark on my journey with action research in education. I recently finished the article Access to postsecondary education: can schools compensate for socioeconomic disadvantage, which provided me with excellent insight on the relationship between socioeconomic status for high school students in Canada, and their access into higher education. The research was particularly concentrated on those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The author’s analysis was focused on research that continued to support a number of studies that have demonstrated that youth from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds experience some level of exclusion in postsecondary education systems (Frempong, Ma, & Mensah, 2012).

As I read through this article, I found it very easy to compare it to several readings that I have recently completed, as well as active discussions that I find myself interacting with in my professional life. The discussion of access to higher education is a common theme of discussion amongst professionals in higher education, especially at the community college where I work. It is very typical for a topic of discussion to focus on underrepresented youth and access for minorities in college, in my work community. Hence I felt much of the subject matter in this reading was very easy to relate to. I also found the article very interesting in its approach to weigh heavily on its data model and analysis to support the findings of the researchers in this piece. The use of multilevel models to examine access to education was an approach that I had not often seen, so I found it quite interesting.


In looking at the organizational flow and consistency of this article, I found it had a well-developed argument supported by previous research and current data. The paper first introduced the reader to the challenges of access to higher education for high school students in Canada, while also citing similar challenges in the United States. The authors called on several authors and scholarly research that was completed prior to their research to guide the reader in understanding the problem that students face. I found this key in helping the authors frame the need for their research and to then be able highlight the difference in their research and findings, as opposed to other research on similar subject matter. The data analysis helped to drive the idea of the research and to formulate the research’s significant findings. The authors then finalized their piece by presenting their findings in a five step model to ensure the readers had a clear vision of the data as it related to the research conducted.

Contribution to the Field

Did I feel this journal reading was worthwhile and carried strength in its argument? Yes, I believe this article can be a resource for me moving forward in my own research. It contributed to my knowledge base by increasing my awareness in regards to the challenges of access in higher education outside of the U.S. I believe working domestically can sometimes narrow the concept of professionals and researchers in respect to the trials that face the academic world on a global level. The research presented in this article also supports the idea that socioeconomic status is prevalent in communities across the world, just as it is in my own community. The presentation of findings in this report were essential for me. The way they were presented was clear and concise, making it easy for readers to comprehend. I see that as an asset in identifying ways I can present my own research. I certainly see some of the research conducted with this study as a resource for me, as I move into my participatory action research experience.

Literature Review

As previously mentioned, the arrangement of findings and the presentation of the research were key pieces for me with this reading. I respected the way the authors presented their findings in five phases based off the strategic questions they wanted to answer. In my opinion, it helped frame the organization of their research to their audience. I also felt that the use of statistical analysis to show the limitation of access to postsecondary education based off of socioeconomic status and challenges was excellent. The reading did take on a more scientific feel because of this; however I was still captivated, by the way the authors related their data to the various student backgrounds and societal makings of the community in which they were conducting their research. In an example, the authors use the results from a Youth in Transition Survey as the basis for their research, but then did an excellent job at humanizing the findings by highlighting themes of student-teacher relationships and the vulnerability of student experiences based on school surroundings. The fore mentioned issues played key for me in this reading.

Theoretical Review

The theoretical framework of the study presented in this report was taken through its entirety. The authors showed their framework in the onset of the reading, to help the reader understand what was being questioned. The information connected to prior knowledge, experience, and research from the authors and outside scholars. The intent of the research, the data used, and findings were articulated clearly for the audience. The report gave information that was knowledgeable and appropriate for audiences who seek a better understanding of issues with access to higher education in their communities.

Data Collection and Analysis

The data collection and analysis in this article was one of the most in-depth presentations that I have encountered in a recent review of scholarly writings. The authors in this case were very thorough in the presentation and interpretation of their research for this article. As a reader, I engaged a very a well-defined picture of where the data for this analysis was coming from by way of a survey model. The measures were presented clearly including explanation of dependent variables for the surveys conducted. The use of tables to present data findings was an essential component for readers. Also, another valuable component was the written part on how multilevel analysis was chosen as the primary statistical technique in the current study, because the Programme for International Student Assessment and Youth in Transition Survey data used are multilevel in nature (Frempong, Ma, & Mensah, 2012). Although I have not encountered current readings with this in-depth presentation of data and analysis findings, it is my understanding that the methods used in this study are standard for inquiry in education.

Findings, Discussion, and Conclusion

Although the Canadian education system may encompass some of the same Eurocentric ideas that are established in the U.S., this article helped me to get a sense of similar challenges being faces in other countries. I found the reading significant as I try to narrow my own line of inquiry on access and excellence in education. I am looking to conduct research in the realm of high school to college transition and the community of people within this research were ideal to who I wish to work. I found this research to be grounded, while providing a variety of findings on the limitations of access to higher education for Canadian high school students, based off of their socioeconomic makeup. I had an easy connection to the problem being presented and to the findings that showed relationship between economically challenge schools, students, and families, in relation to their education attainment levels after high school. The research tools I found in this article are important to my educational research objective and I hope to use them as a valuable resource for the future.

ACT Policy Report – A Guide for Practitioneers

Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention. ACT Policy Report, (September 12, 2007), 1–31.

As a practitioner in the field of higher education I am always excited to find innovative theories or programs in practice that will assist me in my work.  I particularly like to find those articles that provide a theoretical background that parallels some of the work that I am already doing.  While this report is at this time a decade old, the concepts and suggestions for implementation are more prevalent to me now in my career, due to my role, spheres of influence and community of practice that I am a part of.


ACT has put together a policy report that highlights some of the critical issues retaining to retention and academic performance of college students.  The focus of this particular reports focuses on the roles in which both the academic and non-academic attributes of the university experience have on college students.  The report utilized data that came through the use of 109 different studies that met three criteria.  Studies must: examine relationship between academic and non-academic factors, focus on full-time students at four-year institutions, and utilized standard measures while reporting pertinent information.

The report results breakdown the two focus areas of academic and non-academic into defining factors as follows.


  • High school grade point average – HSGPA
  • ACT assessment scores – ACT
  • Socioeconomic status- SES


  • Academic-related skills
  • Achievement motivation
  • Academic self-confidence
  • Academic goals
  • Institutional commitment
  • Social support
  • Contextual influences
  • Social involvement
  • General self-concept

Throughout the report there are varying combinations of the academic and non-academic findings that yield stronger relationships and higher success rates than the others.  What I find important is that there is a strong correlation between the joint program development between academic and non-academic parties to have the greatest chance of creating or improving student retention and success at the university.

Personal Application:

The areas of implementation in which I can utilize this research are in my roles within Orientation and Housing, as well as in the Dean of Students Office.  The researchers propose to start the non-academic areas of achievement motivation and institutional commitment during early start programs.  I see that I have the opportunity to change our practice in orientation of making it more of an opportunity for starting to develop connections and skills for the incoming students, rather than the transaction model that I feel we have now, where students hear some presentations, register for classes and depart until their return in the Fall.

Within the housing area, I would like to see more investment by our hall staff, including student staff, in a mentoring role, emphasizing the social support aspect, during the early start programs. Particularly there would need to be more intentionality from staff to expand their knowledge and relationships with support staff that are here for the summer.  By making the connections with student and support staff we can provide students with an extended period of time getting acclimated and focused on finding academic support.

The final area that I would like to apply the concepts suggested by the article would be within the Residential College Advisory Board that I chair.  We will need to make a focus change from what the original group was formed to do, that of providing program support and a consistency of student expectations across the colleges.  I think this is the area that is most likely to implement something new, using the resources of the faculty, advisors, and student affairs professionals to develop early warning systems, providing more individual attention to students, development of more consistent outreach to students.  This community of practice is one that I have been a part of for 5 years and have developed strong relationships with several of the longstanding members.

Limitations in my practice:

It has been my experience that change comes with resistance, even if there is empirical support to justify said change.  I do not say this to be negative, but as a realist.  The issues can arise when existing programs are producing positive results, but have been at the same level for some time.  Can the results be better?

As I think of implementation with summer programs, I see a struggle in the opposite of my above statement.  There has been no consistency in the early start programs; goals and target demographics have changed year to year, multiple programs have been created from both academic and non-academic areas that are competing for the same students, resulting in some programs not fully functioning because they cannot hit a critical mass to be effective.

Final thoughts:

I will be looking into an update on this report and the test used within the study.  There is an area that I am particularly interested in, the socioeconomic status portion as it relates to the recruitment and success.  I want to see if there have been new discussions about the admitting, or not admitting, students that are pre-identified as having low SES resulting in high need, and the retention rates as it relates to the investment in those students success.

My favorite parts of this report, as a practitioner, are twofold: 1. the inferred practice of collaboration and working inside and outside known work groups. 2. The steps to development provided.  While I will not list them all, I will highlight one that I feel is most important.  “Widely disseminating results from the program evaluation” (Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004, pg21).  From other discussions on communities of practice and roles we play as researchers, sometimes I feel as practitioners we do not share information that can be a benefit to others…just something to consider.


Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention. ACT Policy Report, (September 12, 2007), 1–31.