What it really means to be 'college ready'

Learning soft skills is especially important for low-income and first-generation students

Standardized test scores don't provide a comprehensive picture of college readiness, argue two higher education leaders.

Earlier this month, news reports surfaced that only 10% of Nevada high school juniors were college ready, as demonstrated by low ACT scores. But it's not fair to judge students solely by their test scores, critics say. Many institutions don't look at test scores, choosing instead to take a holistic view of candidates.

Northern Arizona University (NAU) is one such institution that doesn't require SAT or ACT scores, but does expect students to pass certain core classes in high school. College readiness is about more than test scores, says Erin Gresham, NAU's vice president of enrollment management and student affairs. The university prepares students for college with outreach programs that help students learn soft skills such as time management.

Middle- and upper-class students take such skills for granted, says Sondra Cosgrove, a professor at the College of Southern Nevada (CSN).

"That is something that starts at almost Pre-K level that parents are instilling in their child that 'you will go to college.'" she says, "If your family isn't oriented that way you're going to miss out on that."

First-generation students also tend to lack an understanding of what is expected of them in higher education. CSN is working to bridge that gap so that these students feel more comfortable on campus.

"If you're a first-generation student being on a college campus is a very alien experience but you're not sure what do to and you don't want to look stupid," Cosgrove says. "They need a safe space where they can come and say 'Okay, now I understand what we do and this is not so scary.'"

Two ways to help first-generation students navigate your college's 'hidden curriculum'

It's important for students to find some sense of community, be that in a student group, residence hall, or club. Faculty also must take a proactive role in ensuring that students can navigate the hidden curriculum of college, Cosgrove says.

"Faculty have to realize you can't just sit and lecture at students anymore," she says. "You have to be purposeful about crafting assignments. You've got to use assessment. You've got to use pedagogical strategies that help the student gain the skills to be college ready, while you're teaching them content" (Kaufman, Nevada Public Radio, 7/14). 

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