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“There’s no current way for college admissions representatives to account for large scale value pre-college programs because there’s so much variability among programs. And so this work is important because it’s designing a way for these out-of-school time programs that are so valuable to actually have weight and value in college admissions decisions.”

Pre-college programs agree that their programs prepare students for college, and especially for undergraduate STEM majors. But college admissions representatives lack a consistent method for evaluating such programs, instead continuing to rely on standardized test scores for student admissions–which hurts minority students. The STEM PUSH Network, housed at the University of Pittsburgh, is designing a mechanism to strengthen pre-college programs and create “a currency that can be used to evaluate their value in college admissions review.” Through these improvements, STEM Push intends to increase admittance, matriculation, and persistence in post-secondary STEM programs for underrepresented minority students.

Comprised of people who run and design pre-college STEM programs, university researchers, pedagogy experts, college admissions professionals, people who represent the accreditation field, higher ed. administrators, and students and alumni of a pre-college program, the STEM PUSH Network is working diligently to codify and quantify the value of pre-college programs. Alison Slinskey Legg is the PI of the NSF INCLUDES Alliance grant that is funding the Network.

Legg described why pre-college programs are so valuable and should be counted more formally. “They enable students to participate in academic or research experiences that impart scientific skills or habits of mind that are needed to be successful in a STEM major or a STEM career.” Involvement in pre-college programs also exposes students to STEM mentors, offers a sense of belonging among STEM programs, and builds self-efficacy and self-identity.