The Pell Institute publishes research and analyses that address equal educational opportunity, particularly the outcomes for low-income, first-generation, and disabled students. Additional publications include occasional papers, policy briefs, and an electronic newsletter.

Provisional Admission Practices — Blending Access and Support to Facilitate Student Success (.pdf)

This report examines provisional admission as an initiative that can expand four-year college access and success for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Provisional admission policies and programs enable students to enroll at an institution under specific conditions. Students are often required to meet certain academic performance requirements, such as credit hour or GPA thresholds, and participate in academic support services. In this report, a mixed methods approach is used to provide a solid foundational understanding of provisional admission practices.

Findings from our survey suggest that provisional admission may be an overlooked and underutilized initiative at many four-year colleges and universities, particularly public institutions. Fewer than three out of five survey respondents (57%) reported having a provisional admission program. Additionally, these programs were found to help academically underprepared students persist to the second year at equal rates to their peers with stronger academic profiles upon enrollment. Despite being considered academically underprepared upon enrollment, more than seven out of ten students in these programs complete the first year.

The qualitative analysis from the data collected on the institutional site visits revealed that provisional admission programs helped:

  • Promote postsecondary access to four-year institutions
  • Strengthen students’ academic skills
  • Develop students’ study and time management skills
  • Build students’ confidence
  • Develop relationships between students and their peers and institutional staff and faculty

Additionally, we discovered that three distinct provisional admission models were being used by the colleges and universities we visited. One model involved the use of a cohort-based curricular instruction model that supported students during the first year. Other schools either used a summer bridge experience model or a supplemental tutoring-based model. We found that the provisional admission programs were all quite distinct and tailored to meet both the goals and needs of students and the institution. Although we recommend the use of provisional admission programs, we hesitate to suggest a specific model. Programs should be designed to meet institutional needs and resources. Thus, we offer the following eight elements that provisional admission programs should include and support:

  • Academic support
  • Clearly outlined policies and requirements
  • Faculty involvement
  • Early contact with students
  • Engagement within the larger student community
  • Student performance monitoring
  • Extended contact with students
  • Program evaluation