The Essence of College Readiness
College and Career Ready
Today’s high school graduates must possess the skills and knowledge to adapt rapidly to the ever-changing landscape of a knowledge-based economy. According to the Education Commission of the States (2005), students now need at least two years of post-secondary education to be successful in a workforce that requires advanced skills. Thus, for today’s students, there is little difference in being “workforce ready” versus “college ready.” Although the skill set of today’s graduates has changed, today’s high schools still look much as they did at the beginning of the 20th century when students were being prepared to work in an industrial economy. Simultaneously, governmental and public expectations have raised to ensure that all students have access to rigorous and demanding educations. Thus, in the 21st century, college preparation is a necessity for all high school students to be prepared for life in today’s “Knowledge Economy.”
For the last six years, members of The BERC Group have studied various national reform movements. Center stage for the last half a decade has been high school reform. Many support strategies to improve American high schools have included developing greater levels of personalization and increasing the rigor and relevance of the high school experience. The role in preparing students for college, careers, and citizenship remains an important topic of discussion in these schools. To help guide the dialogue around college readiness, we began working to isolate its discrete elements. In our experience, many schools and other agencies have a difficult time talking about college readiness because there is not a shared vocabulary about similar terms. Many times, teachers or other school officials freely use college readiness terms interchangeably: college aware, college eligible, college prepared. We have found it helpful, appropriate, and defensible to talk about the essence of college readiness by looking at the components. Having clarity of vocabulary around college readiness can lead to more cohesive discussions and action plans. It is in this spirit that we wrote this research review. Our goal was to provide a framework around college readiness that would allow educators and others to talk about its components using common language.
We thought about titling the review College Ready? Do the Math (CR = CA + CE + CP), because there is an emerging equation that describes the essence of college readiness and provides a framework for related implications. College readiness is generally defined in the literature as the level of preparation a student needs to be ready to enroll and succeed in post-secondary institutions or gain viable employment. More specifically, in this report, we assert that college readiness is comprised of three distinct elements: college awareness, college eligibility, and college preparation. College awareness involves providing students and their parents with timely and accurate information about all aspects of college attendance. College awareness is an overarching aspect of college readiness that should be present over time and should involve several groups of people. College eligibility refers to completing the necessary courses required for college admissions. College preparation involves ensuring students are prepared emotionally, socially, and academically to succeed in college by putting their college awareness skills into action. These three elements are essential requirements for college readiness, and they must be present in concert throughout a student’s secondary educational program.
College readiness requires having all three elements (college awareness, college eligibility, and college preparation) work together in a synergistic but balanced fashion to ensure post-secondary student success. The foundation of the system is comprised of the underlying beliefs and high expectations that all students should and can be prepared to be workforce and college-ready. College awareness is an overarching theme carried out across time and across groups (students, families, and teachers). Between the overarching and underlying culture of college readiness, educators are able to develop school environments that exemplify high challenge, along with levels of high support.
The implication for schools is that they must create rigor, relevance, and relationships to catalyze the rise of all students to college readiness. Schools must weave college awareness into the curriculum throughout their secondary schools (middle and high schools). Additionally, schools must raise the requirements for graduation to meet college eligibility requirements, and all courses should engage students in rigorous and relevant skill development. The school structure should foster relationships that provide students with a safety net as they become college ready—which in the 21st century prepares students for life in the “Knowledge Lane.”
Duane B. Baker, Ed.D.
Joan N. Clay, M.S.
Candace A. Gratama, M.S.
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College & Career Ready
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