Many of America’s students graduate from high school unprepared to meet the academic, social, and personal challenges posed by college. This has resulted in high dropout rates and billions of dollars spent on remedial courses at schools all over the nation. While colleges themselves are working to help remedy the problem, many other organizations are aiming to help nip it in the bud, providing students with support and academically challenging material as early as elementary school. It may just be what many struggling school systems need to help them give students a chance for a better, brighter future in college and beyond. Here, we highlight just a few of the great programs, organizations, and policies that are helping improve college readiness.
These programs operate on a federal level and impact almost every state (some have opted out of all or some of the provisions) in the U.S., giving them the potential to impact a large number of students.
- Common Core State Standards:
The Common Core educational standards don’t fully go into effect until next year, but many schools are already implementing elements of them in classrooms. While it could take several years for the full effect of the standards to be seen, they were created with the goal of helping students achieve at a higher level, ostensibly so that they’d be better prepared to enter college or the working world with stronger, more well-rounded skill sets. While not every state is adhering to Common Core standards, the long term effect on student achievement and college readiness could take decades to discern.
- Race to the Top Commencement Challenge:
Race to the Top has been a heavily criticized education policy, but that doesn’t mean it is without its merits. The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge is one way the policy is helping to encourage schools to work hard at preparing students for college. The competition asked public high schools to submit applicants who were representative of the school’s commitment to preparing students for college and careers, judging the submissions on performance, essay questions, and supplemental data. Each year, six schools are chosen, often lauded for their creativity, strong support systems, and academic results that are helping to produce students who are ready to take on college after graduation.
College readiness programs are also having a big impact at the state level. Here are just a few (there are more) of the state programs making big strides in getting students ready for college.
- CSU Early Assessment Program : Some states are taking college readiness into their own hands, with California being a great example. California State University is working with the California Department of Education and the State Board of Education through the Early Assessment program to help ensure that students graduate from high school ready to meet the challenge of college-level study. Despite previous college preparatory programs at high schools in the state, more than 60% of the students admitted to CSU needed remedial classes in English or mathematics, at a significant cost to both students and the state. The Early Assessment Program takes things one step further in order to help stem this problem. In their junior year students take the California Standards Test, used to determine which additional prep courses a student may or may not need to take. The program also provides additional training for high school teachers to help improve their educational outcomes.
- K-20 Finance Program:
In Oregon, student success is also being accelerated with a little help from higher ed. The state is redesigning its infrastructure to unify its education delivery system and its curriculum, create a single data system for tracking students, and connect all the education sectors through one large, transparent budget for K-12, undergrad, and graduate school funding. The goal is to reorganize the system not by time but by achievement, and to have set exit standards for high school and entrance standards for college. The changes have yet to be fully approved in the state (and have attracted quite a bit of controversy), but if they are they could bring sweeping changes to how students are prepared for college every step of the way.
- Twenty-first Century Scholars Program:
Indiana created the Twenty-first Century Scholars program back in 1990, using state financial aid to provide college tuition to low-income middle-school students. In order to obtain this funding, students must complete a pledge to finish high school, maintain at least a C grade point average, remain drug and alcohol free, apply for college and financial aid, and enroll in an Indiana state school within two years of graduation. In addition, the program also allows students to take advantage of college prep courses, support services, and assistance with the financial costs of applying to schools. Since the program has been in place, the number of low-income students taking prep courses has gone up, high school honors diploma rates have increased (12% at the start of the program and 29% in 2004), and more students than ever are enrolling in college.
- Florida Linked Data System:
It’s hard for many states to improve their educational programs because they can’t track students accurately to see their outcomes. Florida is one place where that’s changing. The state has linked two major data systems, the Data Warehouse and the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program, which allows them to better see how students are progressing through the state’s educational systems and in the workforce. This data tracking has made it easier to create policies that can truly help students succeed in life, measuring the impact of different educational choices, participation in state programs, and other factors. Other states using linked systems are Connecticut, Maine, and Washington. This type of system could soon become a common practice nationwide.
- Postsecondary Education Improvement Act:
Kentucky’s legislature passed this act in 1997, establishing goals for the state-run institutions of higher education and creating an accountability system to help ensure that all institutions were providing access to quality education, making good use of resources, and serving students the best they could. The goal was to help the state track whether or not students were ready for college, if they could afford it, how many students were graduating, and the direct effect of these graduates on the state economy. By creating this system of accountability, the state made it possible to make changes at the secondary level that would improve college readiness and accessibility.
- HOPE Scholarship:
Students in the Georgia public school system who earn a B or better in college preparatory classes can receive financial aid, regardless of need, through the HOPE Scholarship program. It’s just one of many ways the state is seeking to change attitudes about college and motivate students to better prepare for the academic challenges they may face. Georgia has also implemented a College and Career Ready Performance Index that high school and middle school counselors can use to help students prepare for post-secondary education.
Independent and Private
Businesses, foundations, and nonprofits are also working hard to prepare young scholars for a future that includes a college education. Here are some that stand out.
- College Summit:
College Summit is a national nonprofit organization that helps high schools raise their college enrollment rates by building a better college-going culture. Focused on those from low-income and underserved communities, the organization partners with more than 180 high schools in 12 states to help them build college prep programs, help teachers improve through professional development, and give students support and guidance. Since it was founded, the program has garnered numerous awards and has helped to improve college enrollment rates by 25% at some of the worst schools they serve.
- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
The Gates Foundation has billions set aside for improving education in America. Part of that has gone towards helping students get a college-ready education. In 2012, the foundation donated $5.4 million in grants to support 13 new technologies focused on improving college readiness and completion. Winners represented a diverse group, ranging from public colleges like the University of Washington (which plans to partner with Coursera), to start-up companies like Altius Education. It’s too soon to see if the ideas will change education and improve college readiness, but the innovative thinking and support the foundation provides certainly constitute a step in the right direction.
- University Support:
Colleges don’t want students to be unprepared; it costs them time and money and in many cases increases their dropout rates. As a result, many schools have created programs that help to improve college readiness and ensure that students who head to their schools are ready for the challenging academic work ahead. The University of Chicago, often ranked among the top schools in the nation, is one example. The school has numerous programs in the Chicago community, many focused on impoverished areas of the south side of the city where the school is located, that help students to learn, grow, and get ready for college. Another great example is Morehead State University, home to an Early College Program that last year helped 2,300 high school students get college-ready.
- Year Up:
Founded in 2000 by Harvard Business School graduate Gerald Chertavian, this nonprofit group aims to help young, urban students gain the skills, experience, and support they need to reach their potential in careers and post-secondary education. Recent high school grads can enroll in the organization’s intensive, yearlong program that offers them the chance to learn new skills through courses and internships, with the long-term goal of helping participants gain college acceptance or a solid new job. It has won numerous awards and has a great record of success, with 84% of its graduates employed or in college full-time within four months of graduation.
- The Posse Foundation:
For many students, succeeding in college has just as much to do with finding a strong support system as being academically gifted. The Posse Foundation helps to provide students with that support. It forms groups of 10 to 12 students who are then enrolled together in an 8-month pre-college training program that helps to get them ready for enrollment at top-tier universities around the nation. Unlike many other programs, the Posse Foundation doesn’t just focus on academics; students also learn how to manage the social and personal challenges they face when they enter college. So far, the program has placed more than 3,100 students in top colleges in the U.S., including big names like UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt.