Turning High School Partnerships into College Enrollments

Topics: Community College, Student Affairs, Student Experience, Career Services, Experiential Learning, Student Retention and Success, Degree Progress, Developmental and Remedial Education, Early Warning Systems

Cultivating College Navigation Skills

Ample Investment in Academic Remediation

Pre-College Testing and Transition Courses a Settled Science

Much attention has been paid to academic remediation over the past few years. According to the Community College Research Center, high schools in the majority of states administer 11th grade placement exams to measure college readiness. Most states also offer 12th grade transitions curricula—courses to remediate college-unready students before entering college.

The California State University’s Early Assessment Program (EAP) identifies college-unready high school students and offers senior year transitions curricula in follow-up. In its first years, the EAP reduced students’ odds of developmental placement by six percentage points in English and four percentage points in math.

Chattanooga State Community College’s SAILS program has achieved similar success. The program expands the modified math emporium model the college adopted for its remedial students into high schools, giving students a chance to work through math coursework at their own pace. As a result, SAILS students are three times more likely to place into college math than in the past.

Together, early readiness assessments and transitions curricula significantly reduce the need for college remediation. In fact, these best practices have made academic remediation a settled science. Moving forward, the challenge for college leaders is to balance investments in academic readiness with noncognitive student supports.

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But Lack of Attention to Non-Academic Barriers

College Navigation—Not Coursework—Greatest Transition Obstacle

Currently, community college readiness programs tend to focus almost exclusively on minimizing students’ academic barriers to success. However, this singular focus on academic barriers ignores students’ greatest barriers to completion.

EAB surveyed community college administrators across the country about students’ top reasons for dropping out or failing in their courses. The survey found that students’ greatest barriers to completion are noncognitive: the inability to finance education, the perception that coursework is disconnected from career goals, and the lack of a college support network. Toward the bottom of the list were academic barriers like the difficulty of introductory coursework.

Over the course of a few months, Forum researchers conducted interviews with over 50 students on member campuses to gather the student perspective on transition obstacles. The excerpts from these conversations on this page show the difficulties students faced when trying to navigate the college enrollment process alone. Completing financial aid forms, crafting a realistic academic plan, and confronting basic logistical questions alone were all cited as major barriers to their success. Without a support network to guide them, students made mistakes in the short-term that derailed their long-term goals.

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Missing Our Biggest Opportunity to Reduce Risk

Students Navigate Complex Enrollment Process with Limited Guidance

Students without a college GPS are prone to making the most damaging errors during their transition from high school into college. This can be explained in part by students’ view of the college transition process. Unlike the linear process administrators imagine of enrollment, students entering community college for the first time are greeted with nothing but a confusing puzzle of steps to complete before starting class.

In our research interviews, students shared stories of skipping financial aid applications and spending hours waiting for an academic advisor. We also talked to many students who took the college placement test without any understanding of its significance.

In this web of services, it’s all too easy for students to miss out on available aid, place into developmental courses they don’t need, or build a school schedule that doesn’t work with their jobs or family responsibilities.

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High Return K-12 Partnerships

Brokering Accelerated Career Pathways