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Ready for College

It's never too soon for students to begin thinking of themselves as college material. Middle and junior high students should be developing the habits and skills of successful students and taking challenging courses to prepare themselves for the increasing rigor of college prep classes in high school. Articles in this section address academic rigor, early college awareness, college access programs, and social supports for the college bound.

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Closing the Gap: A Roadmap to Postsecondary Readiness and Attainment

Balfanz, R., DePaoli, J., Ingram, E., Bridgeland, J., Fox, J., (2016). Closing the Gap: A roadmap to Postsecondary Readiness and Attainment. Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University.

This report analyzes new longitudinal data to link the progress made in raising high school graduation rates to what is known about college readiness, access and persistence; the best indicators of a students’ postsecondary success; and the necessary and complementary roles that both the K-12 and higher education systems must play to raise educational attainments and close opportunity gaps.

Certificates Count: An Analysis

Complete College America. (2010). Certificates count: An analysis of sub-baccalaureate certificates. Washington, DC: Author.

This report calls for more emphasis and investment to be placed on sub-baccalaureate certificate programs as a means to help the United States improve its postsecondary education performance and stimulate economic and job growth. Sub-baccalaureate certificates are practical and often underutilized credentials that can provide graduates with an appealing combination of rapid postsecondary achievement and portable skills and knowledge.

Research shows that certificate programs, specifically long-term programs that take more than one year to complete, can generate the same earning potential as an associate degree that takes two years to complete. This is especially true of programs in the health care field, which constitute 43 percent of all certificates. In fact, the median earnings of long-term certificate earners are higher than those who have obtained associate degrees in some fields.

A First Look at the Commom Core and College and Career Readiness

ACT. (2010). A first look at the common core and college and career readiness. Iowa City, IA: Author.

This report provides an estimate of current student performance on the Common Core State Standards using ACT college- and career-readiness data. The report also provides recommendations for local educators and state and federal policymakers that will be particularly helpful to the 44 states that are moving from adoption to implementation of the common standards. Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Across all Common Core domains, strands, and clusters, only one-third to one-half of 11th-grade students are reaching a college and career readiness level of achievement.
  • As in other reports, including ACT’s most recent Condition of College and Career and Readiness report, the percentages of Caucasian students who met or exceeded college and career readiness were uniformly higher than those of African American, Hispanic, and other underserved students.
  • ACT recommends state and district leaders begin to focus targeted instructional strategies to support student learning in four key areas of the Common Core State Standards: Text Complexity, Language and Vocabulary Acquisition, Number and Quantity, and Mathematical Practices.

Crossing the Bridge: GED Credentials and Postsecondary Educational Outcomes

American Council on Education. (2010). Crossing the bridge: GED credentials and postsecondary outcomes. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Data from Crossing the Bridge show that when given enough time, most 2003 GED Test passers with post-secondary education goals and aspirations (71.5%) followed up on those goals. The majority (77.8%) of postsecondary students who had passed the GED Tests enrolled in community colleges, or similar types of institutions. This is an important finding given the increasing need for postsecondary education in America's workforce.

According to Crossing the Bridge, approximately half of GED Test passers who enrolled in a college education and training program returned for a consecutive second semester (50.4%). The most popular majors for these students were nursing, nurse assistant/aide, criminal justice/law enforcement, emergency medical technician and business administration.

Although 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year, a substantial gap exists in federal and state efforts toward the recruitment of adults into postsecondary education, with most effort going toward recruitment via the traditional pipeline of graduating high school seniors. Data from this report indicate there may be another pipeline worth pursuing in the future.

No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion

Souther Regional Education Board. (2010). No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion. Atlanta, GA: Author.

States need to place a major focus on increasing the numbers of students who complete college degrees and career certificates toward the goal of having 60 percent of working-age adults earning some type of high-quality credential by the year 2025, a major new report and set of recommendations from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) urges. No Time to Waste: Policy Recommendations for Improving College Completion, challenges states to become national leaders in increasing college completion. The report includes 10 major policy recommendations for states to pursue including setting specific and ambitious goals for raising the numbers of each degree type and graduation rates at each institution, system and statewide; better measures of progress to show education attainment levels and how various groups of students are faring, including transfer and part-time students; more attention to college costs and targeted financial aid for the neediest students, high school students’ readiness for college-level work, institutional practices that can help more students succeed, greater efficiency in institutions’ and systems’ operations, clearing an efficient path to degrees for students, bringing many more adults back to college who did not finish degrees and certificates, and more. SREB states have between 26 and 44 percent of adults ages 25 to 64 with a two- or four-year college degree. Data is incomplete on the percentage of adults who hold career/technical certificates, which is one of many issues states need to address. Many state and national leaders with varying views on higher education policy issues served on an SREB advisory panel that contributed to the report.

Promoting Quality: State Strategies for Overseeing Dual Enrollment Programs

Lowe, A.I. (2010). Promoting quality: State strategies for Overseeing dual enrollment programs. Chapel Hill, NC: National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships.

This report documents the strategies that six states employ to ensure that college courses offered to high school students are of the same high quality and rigor as courses offered to matriculated college students. The report also highlights the main approaches used by these states to encourage colleges and universities to align their dual enrollment programs with state and national quality standards.

State High School Exit Exams: Trends in Test Programs, Alternate Pathways, and Pass Rates

Zhang, Y. (2009). State high school exit exams: trends in test programs, alternate pathways, and pass rates. Washington, DC: Center for Education Policy.

This report highlights a growing trend among states to establish alternate pathways to graduation for students who are struggling to pass exit exams. The report also analyzes exit exam pass rates and finds that 11 of the 16 states showed an average annual growth in the proportion of students passing the test in reading and 13 states showed average annual growth in mathematics. Although many states narrowed the gaps in initial pass rates between the various student subgroups over the years, the gaps remain large in both subjects.

College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success

Aldeman, Chad. (2009). College- and career-ready: using outcomes data to hold high schools accountable for student success. Washington, DC: Education Sector.

This report argues that the best way to measure whether students are prepared for college or a career is by looking at what actually happens when students arrive at their intended destination. Do they go to college, and, once there, do they need to take remedial courses? Do their grades reflect an ability to do college-level work? If they don't go to college, are they able to find gainful employment?

Promise Lost: College-Qualified Students Who Don't Enroll In College

Institute for Higher Education Policy. (2008). Promise lost: college-qualified students who don't enroll in college. Washington, DC: Author.

Despite the increasing importance of higher education, students who are academically qualified for college still face numerous barriers to college enrollment. These barriers range from insufficient financial aid to mixed messages about academic preparation, poor understanding of admission and financial aid application processes, and limited community encouragement. Improving access to college for these students requires policies informed by the perspectives that counselors and college-qualified students have on each of these barriers. To contribute to a better understanding of these perspectives, the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) carried out two national surveys, one of college-qualified high school graduates and another of high school counselors. Results from the two surveys pointed to the need for policy intervention or further research in the following five categories: college cost and the availability of aid, the steps to enroll in college, opportunity cost, economic mobility, and transparency about the amount and types of financial aid available.

A Developmental Perspective on College and Workplace Readiness

Lippman, L, Atienza, A., Rivers, A. & Kieth, J. (2008). A Developmental Perspective on College and Workplace Readiness. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

This report provides a developmental perspective on what competencies young people need to be ready for college, the workplace, and the transition to adulthood.The competencies needed are organized into five domains of youth development: physical, psychological, social, cognitive, and spiritual.

High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income Schools

College Summit. (2008).High Schools as Launch Pads: How College-Going Culture Improves Graduation Rates in Low-Income Schools. Washington, DC: Author.

A growing body of research suggests that students who work hard in high school do so because they connect their efforts with college and career rewards after high school. A college-going culture in high school not only increases the likelihood of college degree attainment, but also improves the likelihood that students will graduate from high school college-ready. This white paper provides policy recommendations at the school district, state and federal level to foster these “launch pad” high schools, with a focus on 1) improving the reliability of college participation data by high school; 2) establishing an objective long-term high school success measure; and 3) providing incentives for high schools to invest in building college-going culture.

From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College

Roderick, M. Nagaoka, J., Coca, V. & Moeller, E. (2008). From high school to the future: potholes on the road to college. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

This report examines how Chicago Public School students navigate the college search and application processes, as well as the types of colleges those students apply to and enroll in. Study questions include whether students get the support they need to make informed choices about college and whether students who aspire to attend a four-year college are aware of the steps required to enroll?

From High School to the Future: The Path Toward 20

Easton, J., Ponisciak, Stephen, & Luppescu, Stuart. (2008) From High School to the Future: the path toward 20. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

This report is part of a series of studies related to college going by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students.This study looks closely into the CPS goal of having more students score 20 or better on the ACT. Both the prior and current research clearly identify two major factors that influence ACT scores. Regardless of their background or previous test scores, students score higher on the ACT when they attend high schools with strong academic cultures and when they have high academic performance as evidenced by good grades.

Measuring Up 2008

National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. (2008). Measuring Up. Washington, DC: Author.

Measuring Up 2008 is the most recent in the series of national and state-by-state report cards for higher education that was inaugurated in 2000. The key findings reveal that the nation and most of the 50 states are making some advances in preparing students for college and providing them with access to higher education. However, other nations are advancing more quickly than the United States; we continue to slip behind other countries in improving college opportunities for our residents.

Preparing High School Students for Successful Transitions to Postsecondary Education and Employment

Bangser, M. (2008). Preparing high school students for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment. Washington, DC: National High School Center.

This issue brief highlights lessons from selected policies and programs designed to improve students’ preparation for postsecondary pathways. The publication summarizes core characteristics of popular interventions in a user-friendly chart, poses overarching implementation questions and challenges, and includes considerations for students with disabilities. The brief notes that a number of promising approaches are available to improve transitions out of high school, but cautions that effective implementation is key.

The Promise of Proficiency: How College Proficiency Information Can Help High Schools Drive Success

Schramm, J.B. & Zalesne, E.K. (2009). The promise of proficiency: how college proficiency information can help high schools drive success. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

While schools have spent decades learning to measure and manage toward graduation, they now need the data and measurement tools that will demonstrate their college proficiency rate—or how well their students are doing the year after high school. Without this information they must rely on anecdotes at best and guesswork at worst.

Removing Roadblocks to Rigor: Linking Academic and Social Supports to Ensure College Readiness and Success

Savitz-Romer, M., Jager-Hyman, J. & Coles, A. (2009). Removing roadblocks to rigor: linking academic and social supports to ensure college readiness and success. Washington, DC: Pathways to College Network.

This paper outlines the elements of a rigorous curriculum, including assessments and vertical alignment of classes, as well as the various social and academic supports students need to access rigorous coursework.

Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts

Achieve (2004). Ready or not: creating a high school diploma that counts. Washington, DC: Author.

Based on both statistical analysis of employment data and extensive research involving over 300 faculty members from two- and four-year postsecondary institutions, managers, and high school educators, the American Diploma Project benchmarks concretely define the English and math that graduates must master to succeed in credit-bearing college courses and high-performance, high-growth jobs. Key findings: employers' and colleges' academic demands for high school graduates have converged, yet states' current high-school exit expectations fall well short of those demands.

Closing the Expectations Gap

Achieve. (2011). Closing the expectations gap. Washington, DC: Author.

This report tracks efforts by all 50 states on key college- and career-ready policies including aligning standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and data and accountability systems. Data shows progress in a majority of states towards making the high school diploma more meaningful — particularly in the area of standards — but there is still considerable work to be done.

College-Ready Students, Student-Ready Colleges: An Agenda to Improve Degree Completion

Soares, L. & Mazzeo, C. (2008). College-ready students, student-ready colleges: an agenda for improving degree completion in postsecondary education.

Students, whether because of a lack of academic preparation in high school; a lack of flexible financial tools to meet their education/work/life needs; or a lack of reliable information and support in making wise college decisions, are not ready for college, and wide disparities in readiness exist along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.

Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation

National Women's Law Center and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. (2009). Listening to Latinas: barriers to high school graduation. Washington, DC: Author.

Latinas are dropping out of school in alarming numbers. Forty-one percent of Latina students do not graduate with their class in four years—if they graduate at all. Many Latina students face challenges related to poverty, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and damaging gender and ethnic stereotypes. And the high teen pregnancy rate for Latinas — the highest of any ethnic group — reflects and reinforces the barriers they face.

Creating College Readiness: Profiles of 38 Schools That Know How

Conley, D. (2009). Creating college readiness: profiles of 38 schools that know how. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center.

The concept of college readiness moves from the abstract to the concrete in EPIC’s online release of this study of 38 U.S. high schools with proven success in preparing students for life after graduation. The selected schools represent a diverse cross-section of the U.S. education system. This document profiles each school and contains comprehensive and tangible examples of successful student preparation.

Redefining College Readiness

Conley, D. (2007). Redefining college readiness. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center.

The purpose of this report is to provide an operational definition of college readiness that differs from current representations of this concept primarily in its scope. The report suggests that, while much has been learned about this phenomenon, particularly during the past 20 years, few systematic attempts have been made to integrate the various aspects or components of college readiness that have been investigated in some depth during this period of time. As a result, college readiness continues to be defined primarily in terms of high school courses taken and grades received, along with scores on national tests, as its primary metrics

Barriers to College Attainment: Lessons from Chicago

Nagoka, J., Roderick, M. & Coca, V. (2009). Barriers to college attainment: lessons from Chicago. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress

Several barriers face students as they attempt to bridge the gap between their educational aspirations and college degree attainment: poor academic preparation that undermines minority and low-income students’ access to and performance in college, students’ difficulties in navigating the college enrollment process, and the declining real value of financial aid combined with rising college costs. This paper draws on the findings from a multi-year research project at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, or CCSR, at the University of Chicago that is studying the college qualifications, enrollment, and graduation patterns of Chicago graduates and examining the relationships among high school preparation, support, college choice, and postsecondary outcomes.

Improving Academic Preparation for College: What We Know and How State and Federal Policy Can Help

Chait, Robin and Andrea Venezia. (2009). Improving Academic Preparation for College: What We Know and How State and Federal Policy Can Help. Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress.

This article discusses students' academic performance during high school to prepare them for college. This article supports current survey results that show that students are interested in pursuing a college degree; however, the transition can be difficult due to their poor academic preparation. In the article, the authors discuss what it has been done now to improve academic preparation and the role of the federal and state policymakers to make a different in students' lives as prospect college students.

Helping Students Navigate the Path to College: What High Schools Can Do

Tierney, W. G., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do: A practice guide (NCEE #2009-4066). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

This guide reviews research literature on college access and makes five recommendations for how high schools and school districts can help students navigate their way to college. The first two are to help prepare students academically for college by offering a college preparatory curriculum and by assessing whether students are building the knowledge and skills needed for college. The third is for high schools to build and sustain college aspirations by surrounding students with adults and peers who support these aspirations. The fourth and fifth are for high schools to assist students in completing the necessary steps to college entry, by college entrance exams and college and financial aid applications.

Success At Every Step: How 23 Programs Support Youth on the Path to College and Beyond

Hooker, S. & Brand, B. (2009). Success at every step: how 23 programs support youth on the path to college and beyond. Washington, DC: AYPF.

This report describes programs that have been proven to help young people successfully complete high school and be prepared for success in postsecondary education and careers. These programs represent a wide range of interventions, including school-wide reform initiatives, community-based afterschool services, work-based learning opportunities, and college access programs. From an analysis of the included programs, the report identifies common programmatic and structural elements that may contribute to their effectiveness and summarizes key outcomes.

An Inequitable Invitation to Citizenship: Non-College-Bound Youth and Civic Engagement

Zaff, J., Youniss, J., & Gibson, C. (2009). An inequitable invitation to citizenship: non-college-bound youth and civic engagement. Washington, DC: Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE).

In a range of measures of involvement —volunteering, voting patterns, and access to quality civic education —a participation gap has emerged. This report explains the roots of this disengagement and offers solutions for encouraging participation.

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