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The Influence of Upward Bound on Freshman Grade Point Average, Drop-out Rates, Mathematics Performance, and English Performance.


Over the years, researchers have evaluated Upward Bound to determine its effect on students' academic achievement and performance. They have measured the success of Upward Bound programs by analyzing the number of participants who graduate from high school and the number who enter postsecondary education institutions. Other researchers have measured participants' high school grades in specific subjects, high school grade point average (GPA), college grades in specific subjects, or college GPA. Some studies have found that Upward Bound or components of the program have a positive effect on students' academic achievement and performance; others have found that the program had no impact or a negative impact.

Existing Research

Although their approaches vary, the following studies found Upward Bound to have a positive influence on students' academic performance.

Comparing students' performance on the Metropolitan High School Achievement Test, McCormick and Williams (1974) found that students benefit more from the summer residential portion of the Upward Bound program than from the tutorial portion which takes place during the academic year. Henderson (1968) compared the academic performance of a group of Upward Bound students to a comparable group of non-Upward Bound students and found that Upward Bound had a positive influence on the participants' mean academic grade. Billings (1968) examined the number of Upward Bound students entering colleges and universities and their retention rates and suggested that Upward Bound was successful in preparing students academically for college curricula. Farrow (1977) compared the performance of a group of Upward Bound students to a comparable group of non-Upward Bound students and found the college success rate for Upward Bound participants to be significantly higher than for the non-participant group. Exum and Young (1981) evaluated the academic performance of Upward Bound students in grades 9, 10, and 11 selected from schools in northwestern Iowa and southwestern Minnesota. Comparing pretest and posttest means, they found a positive relationship between Upward Bound participation and students' academic performance at the secondary and postsecondary education levels. Comparing the scores of program participants with a control group, Poulos (1982) found that the pretest and posttest gains of program participants were generally higher than the control group gains in reading comprehension and mathematics. Young's (1980) longitudinal study of an Upward Bound program found that most participants made academic gains.

Conversely, Bybee (1969) found that Upward Bound had no impact on students' performance in science even though, in his study, the Upward Bound students received special lectures and support materials in science. Burkheimer, Riccobono and Wisenbaker (1979) found no significant difference between the GPA of Upward Bound participants and nonparticipants. Further, when they stratified the data by type of postsecondary educational institution (i.e., two-year, vocational, or four-year institutions) their findings revealed that the GPA of Upward Bound participants was lower than that of nonparticipants. The United States Comptroller General (1974) said that "limited data shows [sic] that, although Upward Bound apparently has motivated students to seek a college education it does not appear to have been effective in achieving its goal of equipping students with the skills needed to succeed in college (p. 31)."


This study examines the influence Upward Bound has on freshmen participants' GPA, drop-out rate, and mathematics and English grades. Comparing the performance of Upward Bound freshmen with that of a control group may provide insight as to how well one university's Upward Bound program prepares students for their first year of college courses. Although this analysis provides an evaluation of the specific Upward Bound program used in the study, the findings also may offer general information that may be applicable to other programs. These findings or a replication of this study, may assist Upward Bound administrators in making positive programmatic changes that improve students' chances for continued, long-term academic performance.


The subjects in the research group were students who participated in the Upward Bound program at a historically Black university while they were high school students and subsequently entered the university as freshmen. Selection of subjects was limited to those who had their freshman year experience between the academic years 1984-85 and 1993-94. Upward Bound participants who had their freshman year experience prior to 1984-85 were not included due to concern that the content of the program may have changed since that time.

Control Group

The control group consisted of a comparable group of non-Upward Bound students. The university's research department provided a list of freshmen students for each academic year from 1984-85 through 1993-94. Using a chart of random numbers, students were selected from each academic year. For the control group, the academic year of the freshman experience was matched with the academic year of freshmen in the research group. As each participant was selected for the control group, the corresponding records were retrieved from the registrar's files to determine whether he or she matched the research group counterpart on gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and high school GPA. If a match was not made, the process was repeated. Although time consuming, this process assured randomness in the selection of the control group.

Matching on gender and ethnicity is self-explanatory. Matching on socioeconomic status and GPA was more complex and requires a detailed explanation of each procedure.

Matching on Socioeconomic Status

Students participating in Upward Bound are selected for the program because they are considered to have academic potential but need additional academic support to reach their true capabilities. They must also be categorized within the lower socioeconomic strata. The federal Upward Bound office provides a formula, based on family size and income, to determine whether students meet the socioeconomic criteria to participate in the program. For example, effective June 1995, a family unit of three may have an annual income of no more than $18,885 in order for the child to participate in Upward Bound. As the family size increases or decreases, there is a predetermined maximum allowable income for program participation. The maximum family income is slightly higher for students seeking to participate in Upward Bound in the states of Alaska and Hawaii.

Similarly, the Pell Grant program is a federally funded grant program for undergraduate students. It is awarded to students based upon their income and family size; therefore, receipt of a Pell Grant was a criterion for matching the control group with the research group. After students were selected for the control group, the names were submitted to the university's financial aid office to verify their socioeconomic status.

Matching on High School GPA

The university from which the data were gathered records high school GPAs on a four-point scale. The GPA of each control group member was matched within the same GPA range of the counterpart in the research group. Where possible, high school GPAs were matched identically. The average difference between the high school GPA of the members of the research group and those in the control group was .06.

Sample size

The students selected for this study had their freshman year experience between 1984-85 and 1993-94. Twenty-six Upward Bound students entered the university during that time period. Gay (1987) recommends a minimum of 30 subjects for causal comparative studies. Increasing the sample size to 30 would have required including subjects who participated in the university's Upward Bound program and had their freshman year experience prior to 1984-85. The quality of the Upward Bound program and the content of the freshman coursework may have changed since that time. To include students in the study who participated in Upward Bound prior to that time might not provide a fair evaluation of the program. Therefore, this evaluation was undertaken with a research group and control group, each of which consisted of 26 students.

While gathering data, it was determined that records on six members of the research group were unavailable. Consequently, the sample size of the research group and control group was reduced from 26 to 20.

Scoring and Measurements

Success of Upward Bound at the university was determined by the students' freshman GPA, drop-out rate, math grade and English grade The data were scored as 1 or 2. A score of 1 indicated that the student performed in the negative (i.e., below-average grades or GPA and dropped out during the freshman year). The score of 2 represented a positive performance (i.e., grades or GPA equal to or above average and completed the freshman year). Grades of incomplete (I) were scored as 1, (i.e., below average). Withdrawals (W) were not included in the analysis of the data. If an incomplete grade was changed to a regular letter grade, the scoring reflected the final letter grade.


Overall Freshman GPA

The mean freshman GPA for Upward Bound participants was not significantly different from the non-Upward Bound students. The mean GPA for the Upward Bound group was 1.97 and the GPA for the non-Upward Bound group was 1.78. The difference was not statistically significant (p [is less than] .05, df=38, t= -0.57).

Drop-out Rate

There was no difference in the drop-out rate between Upward Bound students and non-Upward Bound students ([x.sup.2]=.475, p=.491). Mathematics Grade

The average mathematics grade was higher for non-Upward Bound students than it was for Upward Bound students. The mean score for the control group was 2.59 and for the research group it was 1.82. This difference was significant (p=.05, df=31, t=1.68).

English Grade

The Upward Bound students had a higher English grade average than the non-Upward Bound students. The average English grade for the research group was 2.36, and the average grade for the control group was 1.73. This difference was significant (p=.05, df=31).

Discussion and Recommendations

Mean GPA and Drop-Out Rate

Like previous studies, these findings were mixed. There was no statistically significant difference between the research group and the control group when comparing their mean freshman GPAs and drop-out rates. These findings suggest that the program does not have an impact on overall academic performance and was unsuccessful in motivating students to remain at university.

The students' performance on these two variables may improve if the program were able to follow-up and monitor the activities of the students when they leave Upward Bound and enter the university. This is not always possible, especially in cases when the students do not attend the university where he or she had the Upward Bound experience. But in situations where the students attend the same university where the Upward Bound program is operated, such a linkage may be beneficial. Since the first year of college requires an adjustment for all students, maintaining a connection with administrators or teachers from the Upward Bound program might offer students a comfort zone or a sense of the familiar, thus easing the transition from high school to college. Maintaining a link between the Upward Bound program and the student during his or her first year could also serve as a resource for students seeking advice about the types of courses to take. It could also offer strategies to students seeking advice on how to develop a schedule of courses that is manageable.


The findings also suggest a weakness in the program's mathematics component. The Upward Bound students performed at a lower level than the non-Upward Bound students, suggesting the need for an evaluation of the programs' mathematics component. The program's administrators may want to examine methods for improving communications between the Upward Bound faculty and the university faculty. Improved communications and collaborations between the two staffs may aid Upward Bound faculty in preparing students for the university's mathematics curriculum.

Additional factors surrounding the mathematics variable suggest that the poor performance of the Upward Bound students may not be solely the responsibility of the Upward Bound program. While retrieving the data from the files of the control group and research group, it was discovered that several of the Upward Bound students had letters of provisional acceptance in their files. Provisional acceptance means that the student was accepted into the university but had to take remedial courses in mathematics and English before being permitted to take the regular, "for credit" courses. Analysis of the files revealed that, although the students were admitted with the understanding that they would take remedial courses, they registered for the regular mathematics course without taking the remedial mathematics. If the students were required to take the remedial mathematics before taking regular mathematics, the findings on the mathematics variable may have been different.

Students admitted on a provisional basis should not have been permitted to register for regular mathematics without completing the remedial mathematics. This suggests a need for improved communications between the university's Office of Admissions and Office of the Registrar.


Several factors may have led to the positive relationship between Upward Bound participation and students' performance in freshman English. High school seniors may opt to take their first semester of freshman English during the Upward Bound summer residential program. The quiet atmosphere associated with the summer university environment and the lack of pressure and stress associated with multiple courses may have aided in producing the strong English performance for Upward Bound students. Also, the academic tutoring from previous Upward Bound experiences (academic year and summer residential) may have attributed to the Upward Bound students' statistically significant higher average in freshman English.


The mixed findings in this study suggest strengths and weaknesses in the Upward Bound program. Clearly, the English component of the program is the strongest of the variables studied while the mathematics component is the weakest. There was no statistically significant difference between the mean GPA and drop-out rates of the Upward Bound students and the non-Upward Bound students. However, since the Upward Bound program is designed improve participants' academic performance and motivate them to enter and complete postsecondary education programs, it is reasonable to expect the mean GPA of Upward Bound participants to be higher than their comparable, non-Upward Bound counterparts. Likewise, it is reasonable to expect the Upward Bound students to have a lower dropout rate than their non-Upward Bound counterparts. The findings suggest that, of the variables studied, Upward Bound as an intervention has only been successful in improving students English performance. The program's administrators may want to consider a longitudinal study to track students' performance on these and/or other variables throughout their entire undergraduate experience. Additional research may reveal other strengths and weaknesses in the program and help to increase its effectiveness.


Billings, Thomas A. (1968). Upward bound accomplishments. Phi Delta Kappan, L (2), 95-98.

Burkheimer, Graham J; Riccobono, John A.; and Wisenbaker, Joseph M. (1979). Evaluation of the upward bound program: A second follow-up. (Report No. RTI/1605/08-05F). Durham, NC: Research Triangle Institute Center for Educational Research and Evaluation. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 186 574)

Bybee, Roger. (1969). Upward bound students in college earth science. Science Teacher, 36 (Nov.), 40-42.

Exum, Herbert A. and Young, Eric D. (1981). A longitudinal assessment of academic development in an upward bound summer program. Community/Junior College Research Quarterly, 5,(4) 339-350.

Farrow, Earl V. (1977). A longitudinal study: The long-term impact of the Rutgers upward bound program on its participants. New Brunswick, NJ. (ERIC Document Reproduction service No. Ed 144 982)

Gay, L. R., (1987). Educational research: Competencies for analysis and application (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Henderson, Edwin H. (1968). The upward bound student and his contemporary attending Colorado state college. Doctoral dissertation, Colorado State College, 1968). Dissertation Abstracts International, 30 (2-A), 583-584A.

McCormick, Marijo K. and Williams, Juanita H. (1974). Effects of a compensatory program on self-report, achievement and aspiration level of "disadvantaged" high school students. Journal of Negro Education, 43(1), 47-52.

Poulos, Nicholis. (1982). Evaluation of the horizons-upward bound program. Detroit Public Schools, Michigan Department of Research and Evaluation. (ERIC Document No. 236 157)

United States Comptroller General. (1974). Problems of the upward bound program in preparing disadvantaged students for a postsecondary education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 090 349). Washington, D.C.

Young, Eric D. (1980). A longitudinal study on the academic development of selected participants in a midwestern upward bound project. Ed. S. Thesis, University of Iowa. (ERIC Document No. 193 402).


James E. Laws, Jr. resides in Richmond Virginia where he is the Executive to the Virginia Board of Education at the Virginia Department of Education. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the Sociology and African-American Studies Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Laws is a former member of the Richmond City School Board and currently serves as Chairman of the Southern Region Academic Assembly of the College Board.
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Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 1999
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