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“Deciding whether to go to college, choosing the right school and finding the resources to pay for it—these are pivotal decisions in any young person’s life. Many parents try to help their children make good choices and help them find the financial wherewithal to continue their education. But even well-educated, well-informed parents often find themselves turning to high school guidance counselors for advice on college options, information about loans and scholarships and help with the college application process. For young people whose parents have themselves not had the benefit of higher education, talking with an attentive, well-informed guidance counselor is even more essential.
Unfortunately, recent studies of the guidance system as it operates in public schools today indicate that counselors are often overworked and underprepared when it comes to helping students make the best decisions about their lives after high school. A new survey of young adults aged 22 through 30 conducted by Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers disturbing confirmation that, at least in the eyes of students themselves, the system is failing … Even students who later successfully complete college are surprisingly critical of high school guidance as it operates today.” (p. 2)
Public Agenda, 2010
This paper, recognizing the importance of community colleges, especially to low-income students, notes that there are some “critical problems that now limit the extent to which the potential positive effects of community college in these areas can be realized.” These problems include relatively limited community college enrollments for low-income students, and low-income students’ failure to complete a degree or certificate once they enroll. Moreover, the classes and programs in which these students enroll are often disconnected from areas of strong labor market demand where their earnings potential are most likely to be improved.
“The forces leading to such large numbers of high school dropouts include not only a lack of basic skills and behavioral issues but also a perceived lack of relevance in available educational options. Young people who see no obvious link between their high school classes and ultimate success in the job market are not motivated to take their education seriously. Similarly, a lack of awareness about postsecondary options—including what is required to succeed in college but also the kinds of good jobs that such education can lead to—can certainly deter young people from attending, even when they graduate high school.
Accordingly, policy initiatives that will reach students while they are still in high school, improving their orientation to the labor market as well as their knowledge for and preparation for postsecondary education, including community colleges. For those who have already dropped out, a range of efforts are needed to “recover” these students. This will enable them to quickly finish their high school education and then move onto postsecondary options that are closely tied to labor market opportunities.” (p. 28)
Center for American Progress, November 2009
“This practice guide includes five recommendations for how high schools and school districts can improve access to higher education…
“Recommendation 1 advises schools and districts to ensure that every student has the ability to be ready to take college level courses by beginning preparation in the 9th grade. Students and their families need to understand what the requirements are for college, and what is needed to apply to certain postsecondary institutions….Such actions can strengthen the culture of achievement within a school…
“Recommendation 2 promotes a culture of evidence by encouraging schools and districts to use assessments that determine whether students are on track academically for college and points out the importance of early warning systems for students who are deficient in particular courses….
“Recommendation 3 describes how high schools can help students build college going networks by linking students to college-educated mentors, encouraging students to form academically oriented peer groups, and allowing students to explore a variety of careers. These activities can build a college-going identity and support students’ aspirations.
“Recommendations 4 and 5 address steps schools can take to assist students in completing the discrete tasks for college entry. The panel considers it imperative that thinking about applying to college and how to pay for college need to begin before the 12th grade. Financial literacy about college affordability is an example of an activity that could occur as early as 9th grade. At the same time, some activities are specific to the senior year….”(p. 9)
What Works Clearinghouse, September 2009
This report focuses on students in the Chicago Public School system who are in “academically advanced programs”—specifically in CPS’s selective enrollment high schools, IB programs, and Advanced Placement and/or honors sequences at local high schools.
1. Students participating in academically advanced programs have higher incoming achievement test scores than the average CPS student, but they do not necessarily come from more advantaged communities or families.
2. The college qualifications of graduates from academically advanced programs are impressive. Nearly two-thirds graduate from high school with access to a selective or very selective four-year college.
3. Strong college qualifications do not translate into matched college enrollment. Fewer than half of students from these programs enroll in colleges that match their college qualifications.
“More than one-third of students in academically advanced programs enroll in a nonselective or two-year college—or no college at all. Among selective enrollment students, for example, 64 percent are qualified to attend a selective or very selective college, but only 37 percent enroll in one.” (p. 2-3)
4. Students in academically advanced programs face distinctive challenges compared to their less qualified peers in navigating the road to college.
“…having strong qualifications does not alter the reality that these students often come from families that are less able to provide concrete support and knowledge about the college admission process. Too often, these students, like their neighborhood peers, struggle in taking the steps necessary to apply to and enroll in four-year colleges. In fact, one-fifth of students in academically advanced programs do not even apply to a four-year college.” (p. 3)
“We identify five areas where academically advanced students—most of whom are also first-generation college students—face particular challenges as they negotiate the complicated and very competitive college application process: (1) taking the basic steps necessary to apply to and enroll in a four-year college, (2) conducting an effective college search, (3) managing an accelerated—and complicated—college application process, (4) handling the competing demands of their coursework and college planning, and (5) understanding how to finance a college education and effectively participating in financial aid application.” (p. 8)
“Among students who had been accepted to a four-year college, 84 percent of students who completed a FAFSA attended a four-year college in the fall, compared to only 55 percent of students who did not file a FAFSA. This strong association holds even after we control for differences in student characteristics and support for college planning.” (p. 35)
Consortium on Chicago Schools Research, April 2009
“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.” (p. 4)
“Three demographic characteristics distinguish this group of non-college-goers from the general population. First, minorities were disproportionately represented among this group: 52 percent were White, non-Hispanic, and 48 percent were Hispanic, Black, Asian, or American Indian/Native Alaskan. Second, many in this group grew up in low-income families. More than one-third (38 percent) received free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL)—a proxy for low income. However, many non-college-goers had parents with high educational attainment. Half of these students’ parents held a bachelor’s degree or higher. In the general population of adults aged 25–65 years, only 30 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher (Census Bureau 2006). Thus, the non-college-going survey respondents were more frequently from low-income backgrounds but with high parental educational attainment, and many belonged to a minority group.” (p. 9-10)
Institute for Higher Education Policy, November 2008
On why there are lower rates of postsecondary degree completion among low-income students: “Financial constraints are compounded by structural factors stem¬ming from the social, cultural, and educational environments more often found in areas with high concentrations of low-income students. These factors include limited academic offerings and lower expectations coupled with fewer college counselors and other positive influences. Low-income students often lack access to college preparation resources. Frequently, there is no connec¬tion between high school graduation requirements and college entrance requirements, and low-income students are less likely to complete a rigorous curriculum. Even when advanced classes are available, school staff may discourage low-income students from enrolling in them. The fact that low-income students often do not have a family member with any postsecondary education also hinders their college enrollment, as they may have little or no understanding of the college-going process. Although finances and academic achievement are often cited as the main barriers to postsecondary access, the availability of counselors, college information, and mentors are also key predictors in entering college. Successful programs to reduce access barriers take a holistic approach and incorporate a combination of the aforemen¬tioned factors.” (p. 1) [Citations omitted.]
Institute of Higher Education Policy, June 2008
“By reaching out to low-income and first-generation students as early as the sixth grade and providing a steady stream of advice and support through their high school and college careers, FSU has managed to defy the prevailing wisdom that low minority college graduation rates are regrettable but unavoidable. FSU is not alone. In the last six years, a significant number of colleges and universities have achieved small or nonexistent graduation rate gaps between white and black students.
But for every Florida State, there are many other, similar universities where students of color are far less likely to succeed. Those institutions are not failing because they don’t realize they have a problem, or because FSU has discovered a secret formula that others have yet to learn. They fail because at many institutions the success of undergraduates, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is not the priority it should be.”
Education Sector, April 2008
“Across all our analyses, the single most consistent pre¬dictor of whether students took steps toward college enrollment was whether their teachers reported that their high school had a strong college climate, that is, they and their colleagues pushed students to go to college, worked to ensure that students would be prepared, and were involved in supporting students in completing their college applications. Indeed, students who attended high schools in which teachers reported a strong college climate were significantly more likely to plan to attend a four-year school, apply, be accepted, and enroll.” (page 4)
“We found that all students were much more likely to match if they attended schools with strong college-going cultures. Thus, attending a high school where teachers are oriented to prepare and support students in their postsecondary aspirations has a strong impact on whether students go on to attend a match college.” (page 6)
“Research finds that, compared to their more advantaged peers, low-income and first-generation college students do not have simi¬lar access to the guidance, information, and support needed to effectively navigate the college application process… This lack of information and support may be as important a barrier to enrolling in college as academic qualifications and financial resources… Few minor¬ity students and their families fully understand the requirements of college application and admission and…many lack knowledge of the financial aid system and often overestimate the actual costs of college attendance. In addition, research has consistently found that first-generation college students often do not have access to adults who know the necessary steps to get ready for college, particularly how to search for colleges and how to manage college and financial aid applications. As a result, these students often fail to take the steps necessary to enroll in college and often conduct quite limited college searches.” (page 16)
“Research on college access and choice highlights the importance of the norms for college, access to college information, and concrete guidance and support in shaping aspirations, engagement in school, and college access.14 These are often termed social capital explana¬tions. While a focus on qualifications is a human capital explanation and a focus on college costs is a financial capital explanation, sociological research suggests that differences in access to social capital play an important role in why low-income and first-generation college students have difficulty translating aspirations into enrollment.15 Thus, sociological research on college choice suggests that low-income and first-generation students may have difficulty translating aspirations into enrollment because they do not have access to norms for college, college information, and concrete guidance and support (e.g., social capital) in their families, com¬munities, and, most importantly, high schools.” (P. 16)
“We have shown that CPS students, like many urban students, come from families and neighborhoods that do not have a strong college-going history and thus may lack access to strong norms for college attendance and concrete guidance and information needed to ef¬fectively navigate the college search and application process. Prior research on college access points to two ways in which these students’ family backgrounds, in the absence of strong supports in their high schools, may create barriers to their college enrollment: (1) students not taking the steps necessary for being accepted to a four-year college and for securing financial aid, and (2) students not considering a wide range of colleges and instead enrolling in traditional feeders.” (p. 22)
Consortium on Chicago School Research, March 2008
“In general, grades, failure, and absence rates were significantly better than expected, given the students served by the school, in schools characterized by two features—supportive relationships between teachers and students, and a perception among students that they were they were doing in high school was preparing them for the future.” (p. 30)
“Those schools that are able to make the connection between high school and students’ futures tend to have lower absence and failure rates and higher average grades. These are schools in which more students report that what they do in high school maters for college and the workforce. Schools where many students felt that high school grades matter for success in college and the workforce and that classes give useful preparation for life averaged fewer absences and failures, and higher grades, than schools where few students felt high school was relevant for their future. Likewise, schools where students report that there is a schoolwide press for all students—not just the top students—to have high aspirations, work hard, and plan for the future tend to have lower failure rates than expected, given the types of students served by the school. In other words, failure rates are lower and grades are higher when school is seen as relevant and important for the future, and all students are pressed to prepare for life after high school.” (p. 32-33)
“Course passing rates are primarily determined by attendance. Almost all students who have good attendance finish their freshman year on track…. Students attend class more often when they have strong relationships with their teachers and when they see school and their coursework as relevant and important for their future. The relationships that students have with their teachers and other adults at school provide encouragement to attend and support for academic learning and persistence. School itself could be seen as relevant and important for the future, providing students with motivation to attend. Individual coursework can also be perceived as relevant—helping students to grow and understand their world better or providing preparation for college and the workplace. The more students see their schoolwork as relevant for the future, the greater the likelihood that school as a whole will feel worthwhile.” (p. 39)
Consortium on Chicago School Research, June 2007
Below is an abridged version of their executive summary.
First-generation students identified three crucial steps along the pipeline to college where support was most helpful in making a successful transition from high school:
Raising Aspirations for College
Many first-generation students had no or low aspirations for going to college prior to participating in pre-college programs. They did not think a college education was necessary to get a job and/or they did not think going to college was possible because they could not pay for it or could not get in. What worked to raise their college going aspirations?
Navigating the College Admissions Process
As the first in their families to go to college, most first generation students did not receive help from parents or other family members in the admissions process because of a lack of “college knowledge” — that is, how to prepare for, apply to, and pay for college. Many of the students were also the first generation to grow up in this country. Furthermore, many students were not receiving much help from overburdened high school counselors who could not talk with them about college until their senior year, which is late in the game. As a result, first-generation students relied heavily on pre-college programs and staff to make it through the college admissions process. What made a difference?
Easing the Initial Transition to College
First-generation students overwhelmingly said that it is much more difficult to stay in college than it is to get in. As one student said: “Getting into college is one thing. It’s actually sticking it through that’s the hard part.” As the first in their families to go to college, these students describe experiencing academic, social, financial, and family issues that made the initial transition to college difficult for them. What mattered most?
The Pell Institute, December 2006
“Most young Americans are optimistic about their futures and, regardless of race or ethnic background, believe that attending college makes a genuine and significant difference in how people fare in the world. Although young African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to have college-educated parents or acquaintances, they are more likely than their Asian American or white peers to say that graduating from college is seen as an impressive accomplishment among their circle of friends.” (p. 5)
“Vast majorities of young adults—across all racial and ethnic groups—say their parents and teachers encouraged them to aim for college. But larger numbers also report that there were not enough counselors in their own high school, and they are divided on the degree to which they received individualized guidance from them.” (p. 9)
“Despite believing in higher education and getting encouragement from parents, teachers and others, many young people compromise on or set this goal aside because of finances. Lack of money is not the only reason young adults don’t go on to college, but it is a recurring theme, especially among African Americans and Hispanics. And the money dilemma continues even for those who do get their foot in the college door. The majority of African Americans and Hispanics—and about half of Asian Americans—say that they would have selected a different school if money were not a consideration.” (p. 13)
“While the overwhelming majority of young adults recognize the value and importance of higher education, most also believe that college is not for everyone. Young men are especially likely to see merit in choosing a non-college path. But the experiences of those either who don’t go to college or who drop out suggest that the alternative path is hardly clear and purposeful. Most young workers who don’t complete degrees say they are in their current jobs by chance, and relatively few see their current work as the path to a real career. This group is also more likely to report that they could have worked harder in high school.” (p. 17)
“Young Americans who do go on to college—whether a 4-year or 2-year institution—are convinced that their efforts will give them a leg up on a good career. The vast majority say their parents instill the importance of college in them, and large numbers say that they enjoy being in school. Most African American, Hispanic and Asian American yolung people expect to surpass their parents’ standard of living. Their white peers, however, are more divided on whether they will be better off financially compared with their parents.” (p. 21)
Public Agenda, 2005
Feature article focuses on Peer Leaders and their role in building college-going culture
PBS's NewsHour recently aired a segment with Judy Woodruff on the progress St. Louis Public Schools and College Summit have made in improving college-going in the city.
In Their Words is a collection of some of the best student essays from our first ten years.