Academic journal article High School Journal

Timing Is Everything: Getting Students Back on Track to College Readiness in High School

Academic journal article High School Journal

Timing Is Everything: Getting Students Back on Track to College Readiness in High School

Article excerpt

National trends and goals have pushed beyond the dropout crisis and are now focused on raising the percentage of graduates prepared for college and career. This study examined a longitudinal cohort (n = 6443) of students in an urban, public school district in order to explore how districts and communities can redirect off-track high school students. The researchers explored timing to first-time college readiness in English and math using Event History Analysis. Variables under investigation included gender, first-generation college student status, college aspiration, enrollment in college preparatory courses, and participation in organized, extracurricular, college preparatory activities. Results indicated a student's chances of being on the college-ready trajectory were highest in the 8th grade. Findings also revealed a positive association between higher parent education levels and college preparatory course enrollment, particularly in math.

Keywords: longitudinal study, college readiness, first-generation college student, Event History Analysis

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Nationally, too few high school students are graduating prepared for college. Only 25% of the class of 2011 who took an ACT exam demonstrated college readiness in all four subjects (ACT, 2011b). This indicates that only 19 out of every 100 high school students graduated prepared for the rigors of postsecondary work. The national profile of college readiness is even more troubling when we consider differences among racial and ethnic groups. Students of color are underrepresented in graduation, college readiness benchmarks, gifted and talented identification, and Advanced Placement enrollment rates (United States Department of Education, 2011). According to the ACT Report on College and Career Readiness (2014), 49% of white students met three or more college readiness benchmarks as compared to 11% of Black students and 23% of Hispanic/Latino students. Students who are not college ready are less likely to attend college and, for those that do enroll, they are less likely to earn a degree.

The lack of college readiness among high school graduates is troubling in light of changing workforce needs: more and more jobs in the U.S. economy require education beyond high school. In 1973, 72% of jobs nationally required a high school diploma or less compared to a projected 38% by 2018 (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010). Higher levels of formal education are associated with increased earnings (Day & Newburger, 2002) and act as a hedge against unemployment. For example, throughout the recent recession and subsequent recovery, adults with bachelor's degrees saw the majority of new job creation and adults with associate degrees recovered to near prerecession numbers, leaving adults with a high school diploma or less struggling to find jobs, with a loss of 5.6 million jobs since December 2007 (Carnevale, Jayasundera, & Cheah, 2012).

Being college ready is a process that takes time and begins before a student's senior year in high school. For example, the report The Forgotten Middle argued that students who do not demonstrate readiness in 8th grade are less likely to become college ready by graduation (ACT, 2008). Making sure students are prepared for college is a problem that spans primary, secondary, and higher education.

With significant numbers of students failing to demonstrate college readiness, educators are challenged to find ways to prepare more students for college. The purpose of this study is to explore factors that affect when a student becomes college ready in the context of an urban school district. More precisely, we are interested in how alterable variables (e.g., course taking, extracurricular involvement) impact the time frame of when a student meets college readiness benchmarks. Our focus on variables that are more directly influenced by high school educators (compared to racial or ethnic factors) is informed by a pragmatic perspective. …

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