College Readiness

College readiness is defined as “acquisition of the knowledge and skills a student needs to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing, first-year courses at a postsecondary institution.”1

—–

“College readiness is a national policy priority in the United States and the same is true in the state of Illinois and my own state of Ohio.” This is how I opened my keynote speech at the 12th Annual Focus on Illinois Education Research Symposium (FIERS), sponsored by the Illinois Education Research Council, which was held in Bloomington, Illinois.

The FIERS attracts approximately 200 Illinois state government officials, politicians, agency heads, and education researchers all committed to ensuring research-informed education policy for Illinois. My keynote continued: “Although college readiness is a national policy priority in the United States that shapes education issues across states, still today many students graduate high school unprepared, underprepared, or simply ‘not ready’ for college.”

There is clear evidence that college readiness is a national policy priority in the United States. For instance, President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of college readiness in a meeting with state governors earlier this year and cited his administration’s investment of more than $100 million in a College Pathwaysprogram designed to ensure high school students graduate college-and-career ready.

College readiness is linked to college access, which is a prerequisite for college completion. That is, you can’t complete that to which you never had access. College readiness is key to President Obama’s completion goal: that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

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Many states, like Ohio, have followed by making college readiness and completion key policy priorities. Ohio Governor John Kasich maintains higher education reform as a top trending topic. For instance, he and his administration have increased access to the state’s dual-credit program, an effective and efficient accelerated pathway to college degree completion.

Ohio is also an alliance member of Complete College America and hopes to help achieve national completion goals like the College Board’s “55 by 2025” by improving success rates within the state. Currently, only 26% of Ohioans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to the national average of 31%.2 That 5% gap represents billions of dollars in financial loss for the state, untapped talent for the state’s growing labor market, and most importantly missed opportunities for youth and adult Ohioans who aspire to attain a college degree.3

Despite these ambitious national and state goals, still today many students graduate high school “unready” for college. Consider the following statistics using a recent cohort of high school graduates who took the ACT, which I referenced in a recent article in the American Behavioral Scientist journal:4

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  • 33% scored below proficient or not ready for college-level English
  • 58% scored below proficient or not ready for college-level Math
  • 72% scored below proficient or not ready for college-level Biology
  • In fact, only 23% of these students were ready to enroll in college without remediation.

There are other statistics that demonstrate the importance of college readiness. Almost one third of all entering postsecondary students in the country lack the basic skills necessary to succeed in college. For instance, consider these provisional data from the 12th grade NAEP using thresholds for proficiency:

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Approximately 40% of Ohio students graduate “not ready” for college coursework and require at least one remedial course,6 although new standards aim to make the state remediation-free.
What can we do, nationally and statewide, to increase college readiness, thereby ensuring student success in college? Here’s an excerpt of a few recommendations that I offered at FIERS:

  1. Adopt clear college readiness measures and degree completion goals; it’s virtually impossible to achieve goals that are misunderstood or unknown;
  2. Form mutually-beneficial partnerships between colleges and K-12 schools that center on college readiness, what students and teachers need to know, how to bridge gaps between K-12 and college, and sharing best practices;
  3. Align curricula and coordination between K-12 and higher education sectors;
  4. Establish guided pathways to college success based on data and research findings, characterized by promising practices such as intrusive advising, academic maps, meta-majors, and high-quality teaching;
  5. Use data to direct energies and resources to specific targets that can be changed or improved—silver bullets don’t exist in higher education neither do one-size-fits-all approaches.

Hope you find this issue a useful resource. Armed with this information and working together, I believe we can make sure students are not just “ready for college,” but succeed in that endeavor. Access without success is useless; access with success is excellence.

[1] Strayhorn, T. L. (2014). Modeling the determinants of college readiness for historically underrepresented students at 4-year colleges and universities: A national investigation. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(8), 972-993; Conley, D. T. (2007). Redefining college readiness. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center.
[2] Ohio Board of Regents.
[3] Ohio Board of Regents. https://www.ohiohighered.org/completion
[4] Strayhorn, T. L. (2014). Modeling the determinants of college readiness for historically underrepresented students at 4-year colleges and universities: A national investigation. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(8), 972-993.
[5] NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.
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