Making College the New High School

That's the objective of one of ThinkMTV's newest initiatives. Digging in to the strategy highlights three of the hottest issues in education philanthropy today: college readiness; access; and success. Most foundations that have an emphasis on education are looking at investing in one or all of these three components.

College readiness, according for recent research for the Gates Foundation, is understood to be the "level of preparation a student needs in order to enroll and succeed, without remediation in a credit-bearing general education course at a post secondary institution that offers a baccalaureate degree or transfer to a baccalaureate degree." According to this research, instead of defining the drivers of success as high school courses taken and grades received on national tests, there is a new understanding that certain cognitive and metacognitive capabilities may be the drivers, such as "analysis, interpretation, precision and accuracy, problem solving and reasoning."

College access is generally understood to incorporate programs that focus on improving postsecondary access and success for low-income students. The Lumina Foundation, with the help of Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education has recently issued research entitled, "Is College Opportunity Slipping Away?" that identifies an increasing sense of public concern that colleges focus more on the bottom line than on education.

This is a hot issue for cities as it relates to younger and older students. According to Lumina, Jobs for the Future and the National Council for Workforce Education have recently profiled 12 states that are leading policy efforts to improve college access for working adults by expanding, changing, or creating innovative funding programs. Pushing the Envelope: State Policy Innovations in Financing Higher Education for Workers Who Study is part of the Breaking Through initiative to help low-literacy adults prepare for and succeed in college.

College success generally refers to providing financial support and mentoring to low-income, high-potential students who have made it to college but are challenged to succeed (graduate). Google "college success" and you quickly realize that the college success challenges for students are not restricted to those that come from low income families. This from the president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College: "What college success means depends so much on what [kind of] college you're talking about and what students you're talking about."

Unfortunately, practioners are finding that focusing on one of the three components does not necessarily bring the result of more low-income students making it all the way to a baccalaureate degree. This stretches philanthropy to expand its focus and its resources, perhaps too thinly to have real impact. Another challenge is a scramble on the part of foundations to determine what works from a dearth of published research and best practices, again stretching precious resources that otherwise could be going to students.

Carla E. Dearing

Posted at 1:01 AM, Sep 15, 2008 in Education | Permalink | Comment