What Schools Need to Do

In order to move from preparing some of their students for college to preparing all students, schools must have in place or be working toward developing a college-going culture. College-going culture refers to the environment, attitudes, and practices in schools and communities that encourage students and their families to obtain the information, tools, and perspective to enhance access to and success in post-secondary education (University of California, 2009).  In their resource guide for schools, College Tools for Schools, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley (2009) identified three necessary elements of a college-going culture:

  • Students learn about options for their future, careers and the education they require, as early as elementary school, with a specific focus beginning in middle school.
  • Schools convey the expectation that all students can prepare for the opportunity to attend and be successful in post-secondary education.
  • Schools, families, and communities give students the same message of high expectations for their future.

The following school-wide strategies and structures are essential to creating a college-going culture:

  1. Mission and Vision:  Preparing all students for postsecondary success must be one of the school’s primary objectives.  The goal must be explicitly stated in the school’s mission statement and/or its annual improvement plans. 
  2. Leadership Structure:  Either through the school’s regular leadership team or another vehicle, there is an ongoing forum where administrators, counselors, teachers, parents and other key members of the school community come together to guide college readiness efforts.  
  3. Student Pathways:  The school must either have completed or be working toward the elimination of any academic “low roads” that do not ask students to master higher-level knowledge and skills during the course of their educational careers. 
  4. Opportunities for Acceleration:  The school provides students who are willing to put forward the required effort with the opportunity to enroll in a significant number of advanced courses
  5. Safety Nets:  The school has in place strategies and structures for students who are struggling academically, especially in reading, math and writing.  
  6. Partnerships:  The school must have a partnership with at least one postsecondary institution through which both organizations work to improve student readiness for education after high school. 
  7. Indicators:  The school tracks relevant measures of its efforts to prepare students for postsecondary success, such as the number and percentage of students who… 
    • Take dual-credit courses such as AP, IB, PSEO, College-in-the-Schools and other options
    • Score at the “college ready” level or above on the ACT exam or other assessments that measure college readiness
    • Have completed the FAFSA financial aid form
    • Apply to a postsecondary institution
    • Are admitted to a postsecondary institution
    • Take remedial courses at a postsecondary institution
    • Return to a postsecondary institution for the second year
  8. Time for Professional Development and Planning:  The school allocates a meaningful amount of time to build the capacity of staff to implement high-quality college readiness initiatives. 
  9. Senior Year:  The school is committed to ensure that none of its students embrace the “senior slump” that deeply damages readiness for postsecondary education.  One strategy for achieving this objective is to offer “Senior Seminars” that summarize high school learning in a subject and are also aligned with college readiness standards.