There is a growing consensus that most students can benefit from some kind of postsecondary training, but just how high schools should best prepare students for success in college is not as clear.
An initiative that assesses school and community resources to best channel them for college readiness is showing promising results.
The Postecondary Success Collaborative is a joint effort between the Citi Foundation, the nonprofit FHI360, and local education funds in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Miami. Since 2008, it has worked with 10 high schools in the three communities, providing technical assistance to get the most from existing programs and support new approaches to help boost the college-going patterns of about 12,000 at-risk kids.
"I think the thirst is there," says Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, director of postsecondary success with FHI360, which is headquartered in Durham, N.C. "The language of 'college access for all' is there. We have the rhetoric. What we've done in the past five years is put in place some strategies and, in these communities, structures that make good on that."
The collaborative is not a direct-service initiative funneling a lot of dollars to schools. Rather it aims to work with schools and community partners to enhance what is offered to create a college-going culture for all students, most of whom will be the first in their families to pursue higher education.
Just what those approaches look like varies from school to school, but many provide extra counseling, academic supports, college-application assistance, and encouragement to get more kids on the path to college. Now in the fourth year of the five-year project, the collaborative is beginning to see tangible results from its efforts and lessons learned are beginning to emerge.
Among the graduates of Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia this week were 10 students who participated in the school's College Access Program, supported by the collaborative. All 10 have been accepted to nearby Bloomburg University and decided to attend as a group to continue to support one another, as they did in the high school program. (See this story in the Philadelphia Daily News for more about their experience.)
This year 55 percent of the Kensington High School senior class was accepted to college, compared to 23 percent six years ago.
Kensington, like all of the pilot high schools in the initiative, began their college-prep improvement efforts with an inventory of its existing resources. The researched-based access analysis looked at the use of data, family engagement, equity, college awareness, and alignment with postsecondary institutions to highlight gaps in services and programs that might overlap. All schools discovered a need to start college-readiness efforts for all 9th graders, rather than waiting until they were juniors or seniors, says Nichols-Solomon.
Partnerships were also developed between high schools and higher education faculty. To help students get on track to succeed in college-level writing and math skills, high school teachers in each city invited nearby college professors to observe their classrooms and provide feedback. Teachers, too, sat in on college classes to get a better understanding of what was expected of students at the next level.
These "instructional rounds" proved helpful for instructors at both levels to share ideas and improve curriculum alignment, which ultimately benefits students as they transition into college, says Nichols-Solomon. (View a video about the how the process worked in Philadelphia.) Some schools are working to make those relationships between the teachers and faculty more systematic with annual meetings and forums, she adds.
The hope is that after the initiative ends schools will continue this programming. Many schools have worked with community-based organizations and higher education entities, which in many high schools have set up structures for long-term supports, says Nichols-Solomon.
So far, early third-party evaluations show the schools receiving support from the collaborative are exceeding expectations in improving college enrollment, especially among Latino and African-American students. A full report on the collaborative and its impact is expected later this year.