While preparing all students for postsecondary success is a relatively new challenge, a growing body of research shows us what students need to do to be prepared. It is summarized in a simple acronym: RAMP, or Rigor-Access-Motivation-Persistence.
- Rigor: preparation to handle higher expectations, faster pacing and deeper thinking skills
- Access: providing students and families information on key components of college admissions and finances
- Motivation: a vision of a student’s future that supports engagement in school
- Persistence: helping students stick to their education in the face of challenges
College readiness means preparation to handle the higher expectations, faster pacing and deeper thinking skills needed in college courses. Research conducted by Dr. David Conley of the University of Oregon digs into the necessary content knowledge beyond course names and identifies “writing skills, algebraic concepts, key foundational content and ‘big ideas’ from core subjects” as essential knowledge needed for postsecondary success, along with key cognitive strategies: analytic reasoning, problem solving, inquisitiveness, precision, interpretation and evaluating claims.
Surveys consistently show that many students, and their parents, do not know what college admission requirements involve, what kind of financial aid is available, and that community and technical colleges often have academic placement requirements. Students and their families need ‘college knowledge’, which is formal and informal knowledge about the different types of colleges, the admissions process, academic and testing requirements, tuition, placement and levels of challenge. Financial knowledge is critical as well, including basic budgeting, the risks of debt, and the value of some debt such as a reasonable amount of student loans.
Every student needs a vision of his or her future that can motivate hard work in school. A motivated student often develops a personal sense of direction and purpose, and channels the motivation towards a particular outcome. Career exploration helps students develop visions of their futures, and with guidance they can backwards map those potential future careers to the postsecondary education needed to succeed in them and the high school preparation needed to enter those colleges. This builds engagement in current learning, as they understand the connection with their future dreams. When students recognize why they should aim for success in school, understand the relevance of their academic classes, and know that they will benefit from their effort, they will be motivated to achieve college readiness.
We know that getting to college – especially for a student who will be a first generation college student– takes incredible persistence. When students believe they are able to shape desired outcomes and develop social emotional skills to support success, they are more focused on tasks, cope better in the face of challenge and are likely to persevere after experiencing a setback or failure. For example, mindset greatly influences academic success. Students (and their teachers) who have a fixed mindset believe their abilities are set in stone, while those with a growth mindset believe they can improve their knowledge and skills with effort. Research demonstrates that students with a growth mindset show improvement in academic outcomes, while those with a fixed mindset did not.