• Executive Summary

    An AASCU Task Force looking at the issue of college readiness has concluded that AASCU institutions must work with their local communities to improve college readiness, and we must do it now.There is much at risk: Measures of educational achievement in theUnited States show the country on a downward trajectory, especially whencompared with achievement levels in other developed and developing countries;our institutions are devoting too many resources to remedial education, anddespite this, graduation rates are far below what the country needs, even whenmeasured after six years rather than the traditional four; and too many students are leaving our institutions without degrees but with significant debt.

    Research has shown that students living in areas of concentrated poverty—regardless of race or ethnicity—are, from an educational standpoint, significantlydisadvantaged. As a result, the Task Force is urging AASCU institutions to placespecial emphasis on college readiness efforts that target the 8 million children now living in areas of concentrated poverty. Clearly, there is much for us to do.

    Education is like a pyramid: each level rests on what came before. Any weakness in a child’s educational development jeopardizes all that follows, and gains madeat an early age continue to benefit the child in future years. For these reasons, itis important that we not wait until children are in high school before intervening.Rather, we need to consider working with the local schools and othercommunity partners to reach children across the age/grade continuum, frompreschool through high school. Furthermore, we need to recognize that college readiness is multidimensional. Academic readiness is a necessary condition forcollege success, but it is not sufficient. Students must also have the necessarypersonal characteristics—such as motivation, self-efficacy and study skills—and the social support to persevere when challenges could lead them to give up.

    What any one campus can do depends on its resources and its readiness. The work must be carefully planned in conjunction with the partners with whomthe institution will work. The university must have—or be prepared to build—the capacity and expertise to address particular aspects of readiness. The TaskForce recommends approaching college readiness strategically using the RISE model: Work should be Research-based, Intentional, Sustained and Evaluated.

    Research should drive how and at what point we intervene. Research confirms the importance of working with children across the entire age/grade continuum. Because money spent on quality preschool education leads to enormousfinancial savings in later years—and quality preschool is the single mostimportant factor in preparing at-risk students for elementary school—we shouldconsider starting our college readiness work as early as preschool. Knowledgeof early math concepts and language development are critically important atthe preschool level. In elementary school, reading and mathematics are bothkey to continued school success. Students who are not reading at grade level bythird grade are likely to be academically disadvantaged throughout the rest oftheir education. As children get into their adolescent years, skill in mathematicsis particularly important regardless of the major that one will pursue in college.Overall, a rigorous curriculum is important to prepare students academically forcollege. Research sheds less light on the development of personal readiness and social support, but that does not discount the need to develop these areas.

    Intentional efforts are carefully planned and reflect the match between localneeds and university assets. Planning is a collaborative effort involving both the university and its partners.

    Sustaining the work refers to both individual projects and the broad institutionalcommitment to college readiness. Individual projects are more likely to be sustained when there is adequate funding and all of the partners associatedwith the program were involved in its planning and have a strong commitmentto its success. To sustain the overall commitment it must be institutionalized,not dependent on just a few people. This can be accomplished through analignment process explained in the report. Public policy can also help to sustainthe work, especially if the public policy carries with it a commitment to fund thework. While it is not easy to influence public policy—and in these times of tightbudgets, it is particularly difficult to obtain public funds for new initiatives—it remains important for us to let policymakers know the need for the work and the impact that it can have.

    Evaluation that is systematic, objective and rigorous is the best way for usto know if the programs we are implementing are having the desired effect.Unfortunately, it is not easy to evaluate college readiness projects. Evaluationis expensive, requires technical expertise, and controlling the relevant variablesis often impossible. These challenges make evaluation difficult, but they do not obviate the need to evaluate our college readiness programs.

    Working with community partners to implement specific college readinessprograms should be a priority for all AASCU institutions. In addition, fourspecific initiatives should be on all of our campuses: strong teacher preparationprograms; alignment between the P-12 and postsecondary curriculums; provisionof timely and useful feedback to the high schools regarding the performanceof their graduates; availability of dual credit classes; and strategies to expand public policy support, which will be essential to take this work to scale.

    AASCU institutions prepare most of the teachers who work in the K-12 schools,and the K-12 schools prepare the students who will attend our institutions.This intertwined relationship provides one more compelling reason for AASCUinstitutions to be working with community partners to implement specificcollege readiness programs and ensure that our teacher preparation programs are of the highest quality.

    The following report provides specific ideas to help campuses begin or expandtheir college readiness work, as well as advice gleaned from those involved inthis work. In the margins, the Task Force co-chairs offer some “President toPresident” comments that share presidential thoughts on various topics in thereport and emphasize issues that they believe are most critical for presidents.Appendix A describes a variety of P-12 initiatives that are already underwayat AASCU institutions. Together these will help us respond to AASCU’s call toaction, thereby benefitting our future students, P-12 schools, faculty, state andnation. And in helping others, we will be helping ourselves!


    • Jolanda M. Westerhof
      Associate Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change
      Director, Teacher Education
      (202) 478-4649