November 7, 2014 Nick Preston

Academic Advancement Program (AAP) at UCLA

The Academic Advancement Program (AAP) implemented at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has been evolving for over 40 years. The program improves the academic achievement of historically underrepresented groups which originally targeted particularly African Americans and Latinos but now extends to students from disadvantaged backgrounds of all races. APP is holistic and targets students and staff and covers the curriculum and policy, community engagement, parents, and professional development. In particular it works with 21 community colleges in areas with large underrepresented student groups to improve students preparedness for admission to the university.

The Academic Advancement Program (AAP) implemented at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has been evolving for over 40 years. The program improves the academic achievement of historically underrepresented groups which originally targeted particularly African Americans and Latinos but now extends to students from disadvantaged backgrounds of all races. APP is holistic and targets students and staff and covers the curriculum and policy, community engagement, parents, and professional development. In particular it works with 21 community colleges in areas with large underrepresented student groups to improve students preparedness for admission to the university.

Objectives of the Intervention

The Academic Advancement Program (AAP) was established in 1971 to widen university access for historically underrepresented students at UCLA, including low income, first-generation, immigrant, and students of color. AAP also provides services to transfer students. This population has often found university life to be overwhelming and AAP was implemented as a route to reduce attrition and increase graduation rates for these students. During the past 40 years, AAP has transitioned from a rescue and remediation program to pedagogy of high expectations and excellence, with a “Community of Scholars” model evolving over the last several years.

The mission of the program is to:

  1. ensure the academic success and graduation of students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education;
  2. inform and prepare AAP students for graduate and professional schools;
  3. to develop the academic, scientific, political, economic, and community leadership necessary to transform society.


  • AAP consists of a collection of innovative programs serving approximately 5,600 student members from multi-ethnic, low-income, first generation, and multiracial backgrounds.
  • AAP was created in 1971 out of the consolidation of UCLA’s Educational Opportunity (EOP) Program and High Potential Program (HPP), two early efforts to widen access for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Approximately 59% of AAP students are from historically underrepresented backgrounds (Hispanic/Latino, African American, and Native American).
  • Approximately 80% of AAP students are the first in their family to attend college.
  • Approximately 27% of the undergraduate student populations are AAP members.
  • AAP graduates the highest percentage of historically underrepresented students in the UC system, the California State University system, and among major public research universities in the country.
  • Approximately 91% of AAP students said that participation in AAP increased their sense of belonging to the larger UCLA academic community. AAP helps students understand the challenges and opportunities of becoming competitive for gradate and professional opportunities through mentoring programs provided by student leaders and peer counsellors.
  • AAP has been recognized as one of the “most creative, successful, and innovative” student retention program in the country.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

AAP Origins and mission:

The Academic Advancement Program (AAP) was created in 1971 out of the consolidation of UCLA’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and High Potential Program (HPP), two early efforts to widen university access for students who had historically been underrepresented at the university. Both of these early programs were the result of the broader national struggle to change the social, political, and economic conditions that denied equal opportunity to the underrepresented and underserved in United States society. Like every other major institution in United States society, the University of California, and UCLA specifically, had been largely closed to African Americans, Latino⁄as, Native Americans, and the poor of all races. For example, in 1962, UCLA had fewer than 100 African American and Latino⁄a students combined in an undergraduate student body of more than 23,000. It was the struggle to open up United States society, best exemplified by the African American Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South that, in fact, led to the opening of doors to UCLA. In retrospect, the EOP and HPP experiences make clear that access without the institutional commitment to develop an effective long-term program for retaining and graduating students from underrepresented and underserved populations is not really access. Instead, it is a revolving door that brings students in and then quickly funnels them out. It is, in sum, an empty promise. That said, AAP was the product of social movements and social struggles aimed at opening the doors of United States society for those historically denied access, opportunity, and justice. The notion that today AAP serves larger social and political goals is one legacy of AAP’s origins that remains central to its identity and mission. AAP builds on this legacy by representing the best of what United States society aspires to: access, equity, opportunity, and excellence.

Theoretical Framework:

  • Critical Race Theory
  • Pedagogy of Excellence
  • Vincent Tinto: Retention theory

The Pedagogy of Excellence developed for AAP is central to the experience of all AAP students. Students are taught to believe in their right to be at UCLA, to take ownership of their undergraduate experience, to engage with the full range of campus programs, resources, and services, and to practice participatory citizenship as UCLA students. This pedagogy has manifested itself in all AAP programs and services, has led to significant programmatic changes and most importantly has resulted in steadily increasing graduation rates for AAP students and an ever increasing number of AAP students going on to graduate and professional school. The Pedagogy of Excellence is the foundation for the belief in the potential of every student and has high expectations of all students

In short, AAP is a 40-year-old program that has successfully evolved from outreach specifically for African American and Latino students to a comprehensive outreach and support designed as a “community of scholars” for an array of students who can benefit from its services. A Faculty Advisory Committee guides the program. AAP serves low-income, first generation, immigrant, and students of color arriving at UCLA both direct from high school and from community colleges. Indeed, the need is great as approximately 1/3 of all UCLA students meet eligibility criteria. Although a large number of students are eligible, only those who choose to “join” are a part of the AAP community. Approximately 23% of AAP students were former community college students. The program has multiple facets and supports including peer-counsellors, peer mentors, graduate peer-mentors, peer-learning, and professional counsellors. Two major programs, UCLA’s Vice Provost Initiative for Pre-College Scholars Program (VIPS) and the Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP) are the avenues of outreach. Both programs also provide retention services.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

Target group:

  • Underrepresented, first-generation college and low-income undergraduate and graduate students.
  • A fair share of the AAP students is students of color and/or students with a migrant background. Major groups are Latino, Asian and African American students. But race is not a parameter of recruitment. Affirmative Action is legally not permitted in California therefore other indicators like income level, first-generation college and underrepresentation in HE are indicators for classification.
  • AAP students are about 26% of the total UCLA student population.


  • The programs and activities take all dimensions of diversity into account. AAP is a holistic program in terms of targeting relevant issues for students as well as staff.
  • It’s a student centered program, meaning all factors that are relevant to improve students’ success has to be taken into account: curriculum, community engagement, engagements with parents, university policy, university services, professional development and awareness of staff in working with diverse student populations.
  • AAP is a ‘safe haven’ (Vincent Tinto) for students who come from a background where college is not the norm therefore the program and competencies of staff and peer students involved in the program are aware of the difference in social and cultural capital.
  • AAP and CCCP communicate a positive message, which relates to the ‘world’ students come from with the aim to give every student the opportunity to excel academically and personally.
  • AAP and CCCP can be seen as a pathway approach: A pathway to excel at a selective 4-year university with the aim of successful completion in undergraduate education and aspiration development to continue to graduate school and even post graduate.

The success of the AAP program which is basically a program to increase retention and graduation at UCLA.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

Partnerships with Community Colleges

An important part of the success of AAP is the collaboration of UCLA with Community Colleges in the greater LA area. This initiative is the Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP).


The Center for Community College Partnerships is responsible for developing and strengthening academic partnerships between UCLA and about 21 community colleges, particularly those with large underrepresented student populations.

In its commitment to social justice and diversity, UCLA CCCP works to increase transfer rates and success of underserved community college populations by holistically equipping students with skills and knowledge of available transfer pathways to empower them to become self-advocates and leaders in their communities.

CCCP works closely with community college administrators, faculty, and staff to:

  • create strong academic support programs,
  • improve students’ academic preparation and competitiveness for admission to the university,
  • and increase the diversity of UCLA’s transfer admit pool.

The Center works closely with the UCLA Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Community College Transfer Recruitment staff and other campus departments to help coordinate UCLA’s transfer strategic plans with community colleges.

Demographic changes

Source: Professor Abel Valenzuela (UCLA)

Demographic development is one of the reasons for the development and constant evaluation and fine tuning of programs like AAP and CCCP.

AAP within UCLA

At its inception in 1971, AAP had fewer than 1,000 students. By 1982, it had just over 3,000 students, and then, over the next four years, the AAP population exploded. By 1986, AAP’s student body had grown to over 5,000 students, the result of on-going political and legislative pressure to overcome underrepresentation in the UC system.

But even as AAP grew, it continued to operate at the margins of academic and general campus life. This marginalization led the larger campus community to misperceive the nature of AAP and its services, and reinforced negative stereotypes of AAP students; it limited the program’s ability to interact cooperatively with academic departments and programs; and it contributed to the pattern of low graduation rates for AAP students. At the same time, operating at the margins of the university provided AAP the autonomy to experiment with curricular and pedagogical approaches that provided an alternative to standard campus practice.

AAP was able to develop its Freshman Summer Program (1976) and Transfer Summer Program (1980) through which AAP experimented with the teaching of composition and developed an adjunct curricular model that integrated composition and lecture courses.

In 1982, the university moved AAP from Student Affairs—where, throughout the country, virtually all programs serving low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented students are housed—into the College of Letters and Science. This decision, though crucial to the long-term development of AAP as an academic program, was, however, made without a well thought-out long-term strategy or plan of action to integrate AAP into the academic arena. AAP’s remedial model and practices remained as they were before; its leadership remained in place and continued to run the program as it had always done. In addition, the university, continuing its historical pattern of neglect of AAP and of AAP students, did not respond to the needs of AAP’s growing population. Though AAP’s student population had almost doubled in the span of four years, the university did not provide AAP with an adequate budget, nor did it provide AAP with adequate space for its growing population. It did, however, continue to hold AAP, rather than the entire campus community, responsible for retaining and graduating first-generation college, low-income, and underrepresented students.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

To enhance education and academic life for low-income and first-generation students, AAP has created programs to address three major areas of need:

  1. Boosting students’ educational preparedness and competitiveness and facilitating the entry of high school and community college students into the University of California and other institutions of higher education;
  2. Supporting matriculated students through academic counselling, educational workshops, collaborative peer learning and scholarships;
  3. Preparing students for graduate and professional education.

The Academic Advancement Program is divided into five units:

  1. Administration, Communication and Evaluation;
  2. Academic Counselling;
  3. Mentoring, Peer Learning and Research;
  4. Vice Provost Initiative for Pre-College Scholars (VIPS); and
  5. Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP).

Three of these units (Administration, Communication and Evaluation; Academic Counselling, and Mentoring, Peer Learning and Research) interact with students on the UCLA campus, while the remaining two (VIPS and CCCP) engage in outreach activities at the high school and community college level, respectively. Two of these units (Administration, Communication and Evaluation and Academic Counselling) are staffed by campus employees, while the remaining three units utilize both staff and students.

Undergraduate students enter AAP through several mechanisms. Students engaged in either VIPS or CCCP prior to enrolling at UCLA are automatically entered into AAP, while other students who meet criteria for historically underrepresented groups are identified during enrollment. In the past, students identified as AAP-eligible were automatically enrolled into the program, but during the current review cycle this has been modified to require more active engagement by the students. At present, students who are AAP-eligible are notified of their eligibility by email at the time of their enrollment, but must participate in an AAP orientation to activate their membership. AAP orientation consists of a one-hour session providing an overview of AAP services and directions as to how to engage in these services. This gatekeeper mechanism was implemented to foster greater identification with the Community of Scholars within AAP; this has largely proven true, but current students suggest that additional requirements for continued membership should be encouraged (see recommendations).

Once the orientation has been completed, students are enrolled in AAP and this is coded in Campus records, allowing the students to be tracked for the duration of their enrollment at UCLA. AAP students receive their counselling through AAP counselors, rather than through the College counselling office and are eligible to engage in a wide variety of services, including Peer Learning groups, Peer Mentoring, and Graduate Mentoring. These services are designed to help historically underrepresented students transition to a university environment with which they have little prior experience, and for which their high school environment may not have adequately prepared them.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability


AAP is sustainable simply from the fact that it has been in place for many years and made major developments in terms of outcomes. The Academic Self Review 2012 proves that the program evolves and constantly looks for improvement based on developments of the societal context, change in leadership and organisation, needs of students and new knowledge.

An important element to ‘guarantee’ sustainability is that the Academic Advancement Program is not a project but a program. This implies that unlike a project it’s not a temporary initiative, dependant on temporary funding and is part of the institutional infrastructure with a specific and intentional purpose of ‘serving’ and engaging with underrepresented students. The aim is to provide an infrastructure, academic community and academic and social support for these students to excel at UCLA, retain and graduate successfully. The successful outcomes of the program are the drivers for the sustainability. But equally important is the general mission and policy of UCLA on the area of diversity and the role UCLA see for themselves when it comes to the societal role and the mission to provide service to society.

Replication and international collaboration:

Elements of the policy and practice of AAP have been an important source of inspiration to many higher education institutions in the Netherlands through ECHO. Activities of AAP have been translated to the Dutch context and been implemented at different urban universities in the Netherlands. The reason for replication is the drive to look for good practices to improve the attainment gap in Dutch higher education, given the diversity in society and (higher) education.

A concrete follow up on the engagement of UCLA educators and Dutch educators is collaboration between the VU university and UCLA on the area of diversity. Collaboration is threefold:

  • Student exchange
  • Staff exchange

Development of a research program in collaboration with also South African Universities.

Resources used in the initiative


Sources of funds and the allocation of permanent state funds.

In 2010-2011, AAP posted annual expenditures of $5.477 million. Of the total expenditures, 45% were covered by State Funds, which include General Funds and Student Fees/Tuition. Non state funds from Sales and Services (33%), Contracts and Grants (6%), and Gifts and Endowments (16%) covered 55% of AAP’s expenditures.

Included in Gifts and Endowments is a scholarship fund that disburses over $250,000 annually to AAP students. The AAP Council is very instrumental in raising and contributing scholarship dollars. Currently the fund’s endowment exceeds $3 million dollars. Annual scholarships range from $2,500 to $9,000.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

The most impressive outcome seen from a European perspective is the major increase in retention and attainment rates that has been achieved over the years. The 6 year graduation rate of the program in 1985 was about 45%. This number increased to 87% in 2005 and increased even more in the past year. The gap in performance of the AAP student population in comparison with the mainstream UCLA student population is a few percentage points. These results don’t appear in OECD data of the US in general but are very convincing to universities in urban areas in Europe with comparable student populations of underrepresented and underserved groups. The impressive results were the reason for ECHO to start collaboration with AAP and CCCP colleagues at UCLA in 2002 to connect professionals from Dutch (urban) institutions.

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