Maximizing high school graduation rates is no longer enough — school districts must prepare every student to succeed in college. Here’s how the Postsecondary Success Initiative helped three districts transition into this new educational paradigm.
“The challenge [for schools] is not to simply get students into postsecondary programs, as daunting as that challenge might be,” writes David T. Conley in the introduction to his book, College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School. “It is to prepare them to succeed in those programs. In essence, it means [getting] students ready to learn beyond high school, not simply to complete high school.”
As high school graduation rates continue to climb throughout the country, this higher-level challenge is becoming a priority for many educators. American public schools have succeeded in crafting a broad — though by no means universal — roadmap to high school graduation. However, for many students, the subsequent step in their educational journey remains largely uncharted.
This issue was the impetus behind the Alliance for Excellent Education’s webinar entitled, “Data Systems for Increasing Postsecondary Success.” The broadcast touched on some interrelated topics — most notably the Postsecondary Success Initiative — and featured commentary from Director of the Postsecondary Success Portfolio at FHI 360 Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, President of Equal Measure Meg Long, and moderator Robert Rothman.
Leveraging Data to Build College and Career Readiness
Formed as a response to President Obama’s goal of raising America’s college graduation rates from thirteenth to first in the industrialized world, the Postsecondary Success Initiative was a five-year pilot program rolled out in public schools in Miami-Dade County, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
The goal of the Initiative was to improve college access, enrollment, and more critically, success, particularly among traditionally underserved student populations. Students who grow up in families and communities where there isn’t a strong history of college attendance face an uphill battle, says Nichols-Solomon, as they’re often presented with a (false) dichotomy of college attendance or work. “In reality, around two-thirds of jobs now require a postsecondary degree or some type of certification,” she points out. “So it’s really college and career. The two are inextricably linked.”
Helping students understand that the relationship between college and career is conjunctive, not disjunctive, required replacing casual — often even ad hoc — support systems with formalized systems of support designed to do more than just prevent dropouts and improve graduation rates. “To do this, we needed to conduct a gap analysis in each of the three pilot communities and then do some asset mapping to figure out what kinds of supports for students were already in place,” says Nichols-Solomon.
This asset mapping provided stakeholders with a clear, data-supported picture of what was going on in their districts — and what wasn’t going on that should have been. As Long points out, however, Initiative administrators discovered very quickly that their data-driven insights should frame “real world” terms to drive tangible changes.
“We learned that you can’t just put a 50-page packet of data in front of people and expect them to digest it,” she says. “And, in addition to the quantitative data, we found it helpful to open a dialogue between community members and educators to work out how we could use data to improve the education that was being delivered ‘on the ground.’”
Once comprehensive support systems were put in place, and district stakeholders began to understand their roles in helping every student prepare for college, all three communities achieved impressive results.
According to Long, among the ten target institutions where the Initiative conducted the most work, college enrollment increased by a remarkable 18 percent over the five-year program, an increase 13 percentage points higher than the average among similarly-situated non-Initiative schools. What’s more, initial college persistence — that is, continuing into one’s sophomore year — grew by 11 percent among students who graduated from Initiative schools.
Outcomes were even more encouraging in schools that Initiative administrators classified as “strong implementers” of comprehensive data-driven support systems. On average, these schools saw a 30 percent jump in college enrollment and a 26 percent jump in initial college persistence.
Preparing to Follow Suit
“I think we all know that collecting data can be technically challenging, just as analyzing and sharing data across different departments is often a struggle,” Long says. Ultimately, none of these results would have been possible without both a strong commitment to data and an effective mechanism with which to manage it.
At Hoonuit, our mission is to provide educators with data aggregation and analytics tools capable of facilitating the kind of comprehensive support districts must provide to help each and every student prepare for life after high school. As college readiness becomes an increasingly critical characteristic in a high school graduate, educators are being asked to do more than ever before. With a platform like Hoonuit and a commitment to district-wide data literacy, educators have everything they need to clear this ever-rising bar.
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