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Effectiveness of Promising Strategies in Federal College Access Programs: Study of Enhanced Advising to Improve College Fit in Upward Bound

Contract Information

Current Status:

Final report preparation is underway.


September 2013 – February 2023



Contract Number:



Abt Associates
American Institutes for Research
Program and Policy Insight
Decision Information Research
Survey Research Management


Growing concern over college enrollment, completion, and costs has heightened interest in how to help low-income students, including those in college access programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education. One concern is the extent of "under-matching," when high school students fail to enroll in any postsecondary program or in a college that is well aligned with their qualifications and talents. This study tested whether adding a low-cost, enhanced college advising approach into the federal Upward Bound program improves students' college fit and persistence. The approach included customized packages with information about college-going and costs, text messaging of key application and financial aid deadlines tailored to students' intended choice, and specialized training for the students' advisors. The study fulfills a requirement in the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) to conduct a rigorous "promising practices" study.

  • Can an enhanced college advising approach improve the number of colleges to which students apply, the quality/selectivity of the colleges in which they enroll, and their persistence in college?
  • In what types of grantees is this approach most effective and with what types of students?

About 200 Upward Bound grantees that volunteered were randomly assigned in spring 2015 so that half were able to use the enhanced advising materials and training with their rising SY 2015–2016 seniors and half were not (though they did receive access to the enhanced advising later). In both sets of grantees, the evaluation team administered surveys to the rising 2015–2016 seniors in spring 2015 (end of junior year) before grantees were randomly assigned, and then again in spring 2016 (end of senior year) to collect information about their college plans. The students' college enrollment was tracked through 2018. The evaluation assessed the impacts of the enhanced advising on 1) early indicators, such as the number of college applications submitted and students' completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and 2) if and where students enrolled in college (college "fit" or "match") and whether they were still enrolled after three years.

An interim report describing the impacts on students' steps toward college found:

  • The enhanced advising increased the share of students who applied to four or more colleges and led students to apply to colleges of higher selectivity levels.
  • It had no impact on the importance students placed on academic quality when choosing a college and did not affect the share of students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early.

An interim report, Study of Enhanced College Advising in Upward Bound: Impacts on Steps Toward College, was released in October 2018.

The final report is expected in 2021 and will be announced on