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College Attainment: So Far to Go

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A Brookings Institution gathering last week focused on what high schools should do to help disadvantaged students prepare for college. And a couple of breathtaking data points popped up to illustrate why they need to try harder than ever.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who was the CEO of the Denver schools until his move to Capitol Hill, told the attendees in his keynote address that only 9 percent of Denver students are projected to earn college degrees. The figure is similar in the District of Columbia, said Renee Faulkner of its Office of the State Superintendent of Education. It's only 8 percent in Chicago, said Jenny Nagaoka, who helps lead the high-school-to-college studies at the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Was it me, or did the room spin when those numbers hit the air? Was there ever a simpler and more compelling reason to get high school right once and for all?

The policy brief that formed the basis for the meeting calls on high schools to do better in two areas to make sure disadvantaged students have college options: building their content and study skills, and providing comprehensive support to help them learn about, apply to, and get financial aid for college. It calls on policymakers to build data systems that can track students into college, so high schools get a clear picture of how well they've done their job.

The spring issue of "The Future of Children," which Brookings and Princeton University put out jointly, explores the challenges facing American high schools in greater detail.

1 Comment

Re: Two areas of emphasis
1. Content and study skills. Districts must launch ongoing site based professional development to help teachers a. use reading strategies that help students read texts in content courses; b. teach students effective study skills for their particular content; c. teach students how to take serious responsibility for their own learning and perfourmance. Regarding item c, I am afraid too many students do not take all these standardized assessments seriously, and thus blow a test that they are perfectly capable of passing.

2. How to apply to and get financial aid for college. Guidence counselors are best suited for this task. But since most high schools have one counselor per 500 students, conselors already have too much on their plates to handle that job. To remedy that situation, districts must hire more guidance counselors so each one is repsonsible for not 500 kids but 150 kids max!

Cost? Lots! But I am afraid schools need to put their money where their mouths are and stop loading onto faculty yet two more responsibilities on top of all the other tasks they are asked to complete.

Suellen Alfred, Professor
Secondary Education
Tennessee Technological University

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