Cooling out

Cooling out is an informal set of practices used by colleges, especially two-year, junior, and community colleges, to handle students whose lack of academic ability or other resources prevent them from achieving the educational goals they have developed for themselves such as attaining a bachelor's degree. The purpose of cooling out is to encourage the students to adjust their expectations or redefine failure. The practices contrast with "warming up", in which students who aspire to easier educational goals are encouraged to reach for more ambitious degrees.[1]


According to Burton R. Clark's 1960 article "The Cooling-Out Function in Higher Education", the term was first used by Erving Goffman in the 1952 article "Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure".[2] Goffman used the term to describe a practice of confidence artists, but Clark proposed that it was a legitimate function of higher education to gradually refocus students from unattainable goals to achievements that were within their reach or to soften the blow of failure for what they cannot attain.[3] Among the techniques of cooling out, students who do not achieve well on pre-entrance testing or who do not perform well in class may be refocused to remedial coursework and offered counseling and vocational planning.[2] Academic probation may be used to encourage students to accept academic refocus.

In 2002, theorists Regina Deil-Amen and James E. Rosenbaum noted that students in many schools are encouraged to accept an ideal that college is accessible to all and defined "Cooling Out" as "the process by which community colleges urge students to recognize their academic deficiencies and lower their aspirations", noting that "cooling out may also be used to describe the ways in which community colleges get students to lower their unrealistically high expectations for obtaining bachelor's degrees and to aim for one- or two-year degrees in vocational or applied programs."[4] They argue that cooling out should be initiated in the later years of high school by educators and administrators familiar with a student's potential.

In 2009, researchers James E. Rosenbaum, Regina Deil-Amen and Anne E. Person noted a phenomenon in junior and community colleges in which students are dissuaded from maintaining unrealistically high expectations of transferring and earning a bachelor's degree. Researchers suggest that “community colleges passively discourage student success by setting institutional roadblocks in the way of those with bachelor’s degree aspirations.” (p.42) [1] Examples of roadblocks include pre-entrance testing, counseling, orientation classes, etc. The authors also provide evidence of a contrasting process that may occur--“warming up.”(p.41) [1] Warming up is defined as, “the raising of students initial aspirations after they enroll in a college.”(p.41) [1] They conclude that while cooling out may be occurring, evidence suggests that warming up may be occurring at equal rates. National survey data suggest that warming up may occur more than cooling out in today’s community colleges (p. 64 [1]).

Bias in application

In "The Functioning of the Hidden Curriculum", E. Margolis and M. Romero note that cooling out may also be applied to students whose educational goals are unrealistic due to factors other than academic ability, such as lack of financial resources.[5] They argue that "cooling out" has been used against students of color and women, concluding that "the less capital a student brings to the graduate setting, the more impact the process [of cooling out] has on that student's educational experience."[6]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Rosenbaum, James E.; Regina Deil-Amen; Ann E. Person (1 March 2009). After Admission: From College Access to College Success. Russell Sage Foundation. p. 45-47. ISBN 978-0-87154-755-2.
  2. 1 2 Clark, Burton R. "The 'Cooling-Out' Function in Higher Education." The American Journal of Sociology Vol. 65, No. 6 (1960): 569–76. Print.
  3. Bahr, Peter R. "Cooling Out in the Community College." Web.
  4. Regina Deil-Amen and James E. Rosenbaum. "The Unintended Consequences of Stigma-free Remediation." Sociology of Education 2002, Vol. 75 (July): 249–268.
  5. Margolis, E.; M. Romero (8 November 2000). "The Functioning of the Hidden Curriculum". In Stephen J. Ball. The Sociology of Education. Psychology Press. p. 1288. ISBN 978-0-415-19812-7.
  6. Marolis and Romero (2000), p. 1280.

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