The vast majority of high school students aspire to some kind of postsecondary education, yet far too many of them enter college without the basic content knowledge, skills, or habits of mind they need to succeed. Andrea Venezia and Laura Jaeger look at the state of college readiness among high school students, the effectiveness of programs in place to help them transition to college, and efforts to improve those transitions.
Students are unprepared for postsecondary coursework for many reasons, the authors write, including differences between what high schools teach and what colleges expect, as well as large disparities between the instruction offered by high schools with high concentrations of students in poverty and that offered by high schools with more advantaged students. The authors also note the importance of noncurricular variables, such as peer influences, parental expectations, and conditions that encourage academic study.
Interventions to improve college readiness offer a variety of services, from academic preparation and information about college and financial aid, to psychosocial and behavioral supports, to the development of habits of mind including organizational skills, anticipation, persistence, and resiliency. The authors also discuss more systemic programs, such as Middle College High Schools, and review efforts to allow high school students to take college classes (known as dual enrollment). Evaluations of the effectiveness of these efforts are limited, but the authors report that studies of precollege support programs generally show small impacts, while the more systemic programs show mixed results. Dual-enrollment programs show promise, but the evaluation designs may overstate the results.
The Common Core State Standards, a voluntary set of goals and expectations in English and math adopted by most states, offer the potential to improve college and career readiness, the authors write. But that potential will be realized, they add, only if the standards are supplemented with the necessary professional development to enable educators to help all students meet academic college readiness standards, a focus on developing strong noncognitive knowledge and skills for all students, and the information and supports to help students prepare and select the most appropriate postsecondary institution.