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Project Overview

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Project Overview

The UW-BHS (University of Washington-Beyond High School) project is a study of educational attainment and the transition to adulthood among over 9,600 students who were first interviewed in the spring of their senior year in high school and followed-up one year later. The primary goals of the study are to: 1) describe and explain differences in the transition from high school to college by race and ethnicity, socioeconomic origins, and other characteristics, 2) evaluate of the impact of the Washington State Achievers Program on the transition from high school to college, and 3) explore the implications of multiple race and ethnic identities.

The first baseline UW BHS senior survey was conducted in the spring of 2000 in five comprehensive high schools one district. For students who were absent on the day of the survey as well as students enrolled in alternative educational programs were contacted by mail. The second baseline survey was conducted for the same set of high schools in 2002.

By happenstance, a major educational initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the “Washington State Achiever” (WSA) Program, was introduced in three of the five high schools in 2001. These three high schools are among the 16 low-income Washington State high schools to be designated as “Achiever High Schools” by the Gates Foundation. The aim of the WSA program is to encourage talented students from low income families to attend college. The WSA program includes scholarships, tutoring and school reform. Low income students in the targeted high schools are eligible to apply for WSA scholarships. Recipients are selected on the basis of academic promise, teacher recommendations, and evidence of overcoming hardship.

Although the UW-BHS project was not originally designed as an evaluation of the WSA program, the fortuitous research design is a perfect natural experiment with both the intervention program (Achiever High Schools) and a control (non-Achiever High Schools) population. The research design also includes an important temporal dimension. The first survey was conducted in 2000 before the program began. The next two waves of the survey in 2002 and 2003 were the years in which the scholarship program was introduced, and the final two years of data collection in 2004 and 2005 witnessed the beginning of the program of school reform.

In 2003, the UW-BHS project expanded from 5 high schools in one district to 9 public high schools in 3 districts and 3 private high schools. The UW-BHS project has collected and assembled a remarkable data archive for the study of the transition from high school to college and beyond—the early life course of adolescence and young adulthood. The comprehensive data file includes a baseline survey conducted in high school and a follow up survey, conducted one year after high school. For a subset of respondents, there are linked high school records on courses and grades and interviews with parents/guardians.

The baseline UW BHS senior survey covers about 200 items, including a broad range of questions on family background, educational plans, perceptions of encouragement from teachers, peers and family members, and standard scales to tap self-esteem, self-efficacy, and other social psychological dimensions. Most of our survey questions are drawn from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS) of the U.S. Department of Education, but we also selected questions from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey, the High School and Beyond Survey, the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey (Portes and Rumbaut 2001), the NORC General Social Survey, and the 2000 Population Census. In accordance with the rules of the Office of Human Subjects at the University of Washington, we obtained parental approval for all students under age 18 and respondent approval for all students above age 18. Since the survey was administered in late spring to high school seniors, more than 75 percent of the students were over age 18. For all students under age 18, we wrote a letter to parents/guardians (with one follow-up letter) requesting permission to survey their children. All parents received a letter from the PI about a month before the survey informing them of the objectives and content of the survey. Although the initial mail-back response for parental consent was slow, we eventually managed to obtain a very high participation of students (for both those under 18 and those over 18), with special efforts on the day before (and the day of) each school survey.

For each cohort of high school seniors, we administered an in-school “paper and pencil” questionnaire in the spring (April or May). In some schools, seniors completed the survey in regular classrooms, while in other schools the students were assembled in an auditorium to take the survey. Overall, student cooperation was very good and less than 2 percent of enrolled seniors (or their parents) refused to participate. In addition to in-school data collection, a series of mailings were sent to “enrolled seniors” who were not present in the school on the day of the survey following the Dillman (2000) procedures to increase survey response. These additional mailings increased the number of completed senior surveys from 10 to 15 percent.

Evaluation of the completeness of coverage of the senior survey is clouded by the definition of who is a high school senior, and the logistics of locating students who are nominally registered as high school students, but are not attending school on a regular basis. In theory, high school seniors are students who have completed the 11 th grade, are currently enrolled in the 12 th grade, and are likely to graduate from high school at the end of the year. In practice, however, there are considerable variations from this standard definition. Some students consider themselves to be seniors (and are taking senior classes and are listed as seniors in the school yearbook), but are classified in school records as juniors because they have not earned sufficient credits. In addition to “fourth-year juniors,” there are a number of “fifth-year seniors,” who didn’t graduate on time and have returned to take one or two courses.

In addition to the problems of identifying the potential universe of seniors, errors of coverage arise because about 10 percent of students are not enrolled in the five comprehensive high schools in the district. In addition to a small number of home-schooled students, there are a wide range of alternative programs for students with academic, behavioral, or disciplinary problems. Because many of these seniors have only a nominal affiliation with the public schools—the largest group was enrolled in high school equivalency courses at community colleges—they are less likely to respond to our request to complete a survey of high school seniors. Even among students enrolled in the five comprehensive high schools, there were “non-mainstream” students who completed the survey at lower rates than others, including the 6 percent of seniors who were taking community college classes for college credit and another 7 percent of students who were in special education classes for part or all of the school day.

The problems of defining senior status and locating them (to take the survey) reduced the coverage of our senior survey. For regular students – graduating seniors enrolled at and attending one of the five major high schools—the response rate is about 80 percent. If we consider a broader universe of students, including students with marginal affiliation to high school and other hard to contact students, our effective rate of coverage of all potential seniors is probably about 70 percent. Although our rate of survey coverage of all high school seniors is less than desirable, the problems we encountered are endemic in survey research of high school students. Most national surveys of students are limited to students who are present on the day the survey is conducted and probably have even lower levels of coverage than the UW-BHS senior survey. During data processing, we excluded a small number of exchange students, developmentally disabled students, self-reported Juniors, and a few students who appeared to have answered the questionnaire with random responses or who could not be matched with school records.

The one year follow up survey was conducted from January to June in the year following high school graduation. We try to contact every senior survey respondent by phone, email, and letter. Through persistence and a very talented interviewing staff, we have been able to contact and interview about 90 percent of the original high schools respondents.

This website is dedicated the almost 10,000 high school seniors who have filled in UW-BHS questionnaires and responded to our follow up survey. We are also grateful for the cooperation of the administrators and teachers in our participating schools. The UW-BHS project has been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

 

Please direct questions and comments to uwbhs@uw.edu