OBSTACLES AND ENABLERS TO COLLEGE READINESS IN A WEST TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL
A Dissertation Presented in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Educational Leadership
xxx, EdD, Chair
xxx, Committee Member
xxx, EdD, Committee Member
Date Approved: ____________
College readiness has been identified by the federal government, state and local administrators, school districts, and philanthropic institutions as an issue having serious implications to education today. Researchers have stated that the reasons why students are not ready for college are many and complex and further add that this reasons or factors are both academic and nonacademic. It is projected that occupations that typically need some level of postsecondary education are expected to grow faster than occupations with a high school or less requirement and that income from tertiary education level occupations will on average be three times higher than secondary education level occupations. Understanding the gap in college readiness is important because a vast majority of Americans believe that access to postsecondary education is indispensible for successful careers. A key to understanding the gap in college readiness requires identifying the factors influencing students’ academic achievements and their subsequent college readiness. This research study aims at giving educators and faculty members the necessary insight in this area to enable them undertake steps that would improve college readiness for their students. Particularly, the study will explore the non-academic aspects of college readiness that might function as obstacles or enablers in reaching a positive outcome. The objectives of this study were achieved by measuring teachers’ perspectives on the enhancers and obstacles influencing college readiness and ways of addressing the same. Participants to the study constituted 14 teachers selected from a large West Texas High School located in the Metropolitan area of El Paso city in Texas.
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Table of Contents
Appendix A: Population in El Paso city of Texas…….……………………………….101
Appendix A: Population of Hispanics in El Paso city of Texas…….………..……….102
Appendix A: Main Facts of El Paso city of Texas…….……………………………….103
Appendix A: Other Demographics of El Paso city of Texas…….…………………….104
Table 1: Select Features of Positive and Negative Organizational of Campus…………….. 50
College readiness is a problem that has recently become an educational priority in the United States (Tierney & Sablan, 2014). According to ACT, career readiness refers to the acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary for a student to enroll and succeed in a post-secondary education (ACT, 2008). Byrd and MacDonald (2005) reported that 41% of students entering community colleges and 29% of all students entering colleges were underprepared in at least one of the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics (p.22). A study by ACT (2008) also found that only one out of every five ACT-tested high school graduates were ready for entry-level college coursework in English Composition, social science, Biology and College Algebra and one out of four was unprepared for any of the four core college-level subject areas. This trend is especially worrying since most of the jobs that pay a salary high enough to sufficiently support a family and which offer opportunities for career development demand that one hold a high school diploma (ACT, 2006).
Gaertner, et al. (2014) shows that presently, 76 percent of the students in high school do not graduate on time with significant variation in the rates of graduation across difference groups. For instance the proportion of students who graduate from high school on time is less than 60 percent among the Hispanic and African American students (Gaertner, et al., 2014). In addition, about 60 percent of the students at the nonselective universities and colleges and 30 percent at the selective colleges meet the required criteria for eligibility of the various institutions but lack the readiness necessary for coursework at college level. Even though institutions are highly selective, 10 percent of the students joining the colleges are still not ready for college (Gaertner et al., 2014).
As a result, college readiness has been identified by the federal government, state and local administrators, school districts, and philanthropic institutions as an issue having serious implications (Tierney & Sablan, 2014). Venezia and Jaeger (2013) stated that the reasons why students are not ready for college are many and complex and further add that this reasons or factors are both academic and nonacademic. Lockard and Wolf (2012) projected that occupations that typically need some level of postsecondary education are expected to grow faster than occupations with a high school or less requirement while adding that income from tertiary education level occupations will on average be three times higher than secondary education level occupations. Understanding the gap in college readiness is important because, as Carnevale and Strohl (2010) stated, a vast majority of Americans believe that access to postsecondary education is indispensible for successful careers.
Research at the international level has also shown that academic achievement in the United States is at a deficit in comparison with students from other countries. For instance, Gonzales et al. (2004) found that, based on the results of TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), eighth graders from U.S. ranked 9th out of 45 countries in average science score and 15th in average mathematics score. A similar study by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2004) found that the results of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) placed 15-year-olds in the U.S. 18th out of 40 countries in average reading performance, 28th in average mathematics performance and 22nd in average science performance. It is no wonder that the issue of college and career readiness has become a matter for nationwide concern having been articulated in major instruments of the Department of Education such as the Elementary Education Act (ESEA) Blueprint for Reform (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) which clearly states that “The goal for America’s Educational system is clear: Every student should graduate from high school ready for college and a career” (p.7). The broadness of the programs come into play to address a wide range of issues including raising the level of academic preparation, encouraging students towards planning to attend college, and the provision of the socio-cultural capital to students together with their families for the purpose of minimizing the obstacles to college attendance. This kind of socio-cultural capital is what differentiates wealthy from poorer students and the college preparation programs endeavor to close the gap (Cates and Schaefle, 2011).
Indeed, President Obama confirmed this objective a ‘national priority’ citing the need to elevate the countries educational expectations to place the nation back as a global leader in college completion by the year 2020. These sentiments were issued against the backdrop that although the U.S. continues to be a leading competitor in the global market, its standard of education continues to dwindle with ten nations outshining the country in terms of college completion rates (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).
Among the 34 countries making up the organization for economic cooperation and development (OECD), the US ranks higher than only 8 countries in terms of the rate of high school graduation (Gaertner, et al., 2014). Additionally, even the graduates from high school are often times unprepared for college education (Gaertner, et al., 2014). Moreover, when these high school graduates join the workforce immediately following high school completion, they are likely to be rated as deficient in maths, reading comprehension and writing (Gaertner, et al., 2014). These statistics have caught the attention of the media and policy makers and efforts are being undertaken towards the improvement of college readiness and preparedness among the students in high school. Various college readiness programs have been developed to that have highlighted the different elements of college preparedness. For instance, the GEAR UP has five critical elements including parental involvement, the promotion of rigorous course taking, the objective of college attendance, the start of such programs at the eighth grade and college visits, tours and fairs. Other elements have also been identified as parental assistance with the forms for financial aid, ACT/SAT training, the college awareness of parents, the involvement of parent in the student activities, and the reimbursement of tuition (Cates and Schaefle, 2011).
The multifaceted character of college readiness has been examined with several factors, including college enrolment, being enumerated as occasioning this critical situation. Indeed, Byrd and MacDonald (2005) have pointed out that admission to college is problematic, particularly for non-traditional or high-risk students, among them first generation students. At risk students lack the essential characteristics important for college success, such as self-regulatory behavior, self-esteem, internal locus of control and certain level of intelligence and a student’s ability to navigate the culture of college (Byrd & Macdonald, 2005). A higher percentage of minority students appear to lack preparedness for postsecondary education and careers than non-minority students (Gilroy, 2013). According to Soria and Stebleton (2012), first generation students are less likely to persist and graduate from college as compared with their peers.
In addition, most college educators have been developing a growing concern especially in regard to the extent of unpreparedness of students graduating from high school for college education. Recent research has focused on the important elements of college readiness (Conley, 2009, 2011; Conley, McGaughty, Hiatt, Seburn and Venezia, 2010). At the core of the concept is the development of numerous skills including the cognitive and the metacognitive student capabilities. Researchers have especially identified issues including students’ capabilities like problem solving, analysis, accuracy and precision, reasoning and interpretation (Conley, 2008). Researchers have also highlighted the importance of comprehending the particular types of content knowledge and identified its role in the students’ level of college readiness (Conley, 2008). In addition, researchers have considered behaviors for instance study skills, time management, persistence, the capability of employing study groups and the capability of demonstrating intentionality, self awareness, and self control in different environments. The past studies base their assessment of these factors and issues under the umbrella of college readiness programs.
High schools are required to be at the forefront in ensuring that students graduating from their school are college and career ready. Achieving an acceptable level of college and career readiness is dependent on several factors including the ability of states to develop and adopt college and career preparedness standards as well as accountability measures to help evaluate progress and success. Additional related factors includes the ability of schools to retain high quality teachers and school leaders who are entrusted with providing students with complete and rigorous curriculum programs. These teachers and leaders are also expected to achieve the specific demands of English Learners and those of other different student groups and also provide multiple opportunities of college enrollment for all classes of students (The U.S. Department of Education, 2010). The capacity for schools to prepare students into college and career readiness is pegged on establishing comprehensive, multi-pronged, long-term approach in which all stakeholders of the school community are engaged. In addition, paying particular attention to high need, racially diverse, high poverty schools is crucial to closing the historic gap between college enrollment and college completion rates among students of low-income, students of color, and English learners (Jerald, Haycock and Wilkins, 2009).
This research study aims at giving educators and faculty members the necessary insight in this area to enable them undertake steps that would improve college readiness for their students. Particularly, the study will explore the non-academic aspects of college readiness that might function as obstacles or enablers in reaching a positive outcome. Scholarly researchers such as Moore, et al. (2010) who did a quantitative study; Warburton, Bugarin, and Nuñez (2001) who wrote a statistical report, have studied college readiness and found that academic obstacles such as lack of rigor of academic standards, non-alignment of college readiness standards (CRS) with college expectations and other academic obstacles and thus contributed to the body of knowledge that addresses college readiness. Lee and Kim (2010) found that a link exists between academic achievement and school climate, highlighting that high school climate has a positive effect on college readiness. Tierney (2004) suggested that attention only to academic skills is not enough and that other factors that impact college readiness should be studied. An example of these other factors is creating a school culture that uses context and life experiences to encourage students and emphasize the value of learning, constructs an educational culture of high achievement and produces college ready students (Richardson, 2012). Another point to note is that it is not only the academic but the social aspects of the lives of students that demand a need for a more comprehensive approach to learning (Tierney, 2004).
In order to meet the objectives of this study, participants will be drawn from a large Texas high school, specifically a school selected from West Texas and located in a metropolitan area, to give their perspectives on the study topic. The Texas State was chosen as the subject of study due to the fact that schools in this region constitute a wide range of demographics that can enrich any research study. Statistics have shown that the majority of populations attending Texas high schools constitute students of color at about 65 per cent or more with at least 45 per cent of the total student population being from low-income backgrounds. The different demographics would be important for the research to help understand how the issue of race has impacted on college readiness. According to You and Potter (2014), the college readiness and educational outcomes of students of color are greatly concerning. Statistics have indicated that about 80.9 per cent of African Americans and 81.8 per cent of Hispanic students attained a high school diploma in comparison to 92 per cent of Whites, 95 per cent of Asians and 88 percent of Pacific Islanders in the years 2011 (Texas Education Agency, 2011). In addition about 10.9 per cent of African Americans and 8.7 per cent of Hispanics dropped from high school in the same year compared to only 3.4 per cent of Whites, 1.4 per cent of Asians and 5.0 per cent of Pacific Islanders (Texas Education Agency, 2011).
In the United States, there has been a focus to improve academic outcomes in high schools for the last three decades (Ramsey-White, 2012). President Obama in his 2009 Address to Joint Session of Congress alluded to the effects of the problem of career readiness when he stated “by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world” (Obama, 2009). In Texas, the 79th Texas Legislature passed a bill titled Advancement in College Readiness in Curriculum (Chapa, De Leon, Solis, & Mundy, 2014). Students must now compete in a global society. To do so, it is essential that actions be performed on many levels to ensure that students graduate from secondary school with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in college (Goree, 2013). The decreased rates of the success of students in college have been documented by many researchers. There has been a discouraging trend among the adolescents as it regards college readiness. Reference particularly states that half of the college freshmen usually earn an associate degree within three years and their bachelor’s degree within six years (Mechur, 2012).
Additionally, a quarter of the full time first year students at college in four year college and 39 percent at the colleges that offer two years courses do not go back to college the next fall. The rates are much lower for students that study on part time basis (Mechur, 2012). Reference to further report suggests that there has been a change in the employment market since the 80s to the effect that dropouts from high school experience great difficulties in obtaining an employment at a living wage today. Presently, dropouts have a higher likelihood of facing unemployment, ill health, poverty, dependency on social services and incarceration (Radcliffe and Bos, 2013). College readiness as pointed out by the author needs the students to apply their academic knowledge and content. More research highlights the fundamental nature of the development of soft skills in differentiating college readiness from other preparation. Such soft skills include oral communication, professionalism and collaboration and have been regarded as the most important for persons entering the work force (Gaertner, et al., 2014).
The fact that a third of students undertaking a four year course and 42 percent of students in a two year institution enroll for remedial courses (Attewel, Lavin, Domina and Levey, 2006) is evident that a big gap exists between the expectations of readiness at college level and the skills displayed by the students. Remedial courses have been stated to have a close link with the decline in the completion and retention rates (Attewel et al., 2006). Bridging the transition of students to higher education by way of increasing their level of college readiness is thus the main concern for educational stakeholders in the US (Aud et al., 2012).
In spite of the widespread knowledge of the global issue concerning college readiness coupled with the numerous researchers, policy makers and programs in existence for purposes of college preparation, the gap of achievement of college readiness has continued to increase since the 1980s (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012b). This issue is connected to the complex nature of the problem and the manner in which it is embedded in larger frameworks (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012b). Issues for instance the patterns of immigration, racism, the distribution of income among the households in the US, as well as the concept of the free market are among the few large forces within the society which go beyond the reach of schools and families but which determine the actual perception of college opportunities and subsequently preparation behaviors (Skrla, Scheurich, Garcia, and Nolly, 2004; Ortfiled and Frankenberg, 2014).
The societal structural arrangements which emerge from cultural values and beliefs and additionally out of the students’ immediate life have an impact on the issue of college readiness. For example, the segregation of residential by race family income and ethnicity have an impact on the quality of education as well as other social frameworks which are related to the accomplishment of education (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012; Jerald, Haycock, and Wilkins, 2009).
Time has an impact in the complex picture, given that the educational experiences of students differ in accordance with their generation and age, the era of history and events that are influenced by time for instance the rise in the movement for educational accountability, or economic recessions (Oakes, 2005). Additionally, the educational interventions that have been put in place lack pervasiveness as the students are engaged in the college preparation programs while at the same time taking part in other contexts, roles and relationships (Welton and Martinez, 2014). The students are different depending on their culture and other attributes. Among demographic attributes, there is a variation in the individual experiences and qualities (Skrla et al., 2004). This makes them have distinct responses to similar environments. It is however of importance to note that the individuals have some level of influence in their choice and shaping of their environments.
In a bid to improve college preparedness of students a number of groups in the US, for instance the American Diploma Project and Achieve, have undertaken crucial steps towards helping numerous states come up with college readiness standards (Callan, Finney, Usdan, Kirst, and Venzia, 2006). Nevertheless, no State has come up with state wide initiatives for college readiness which cover the students in the public schools before the K-12. Among the few states that have definitions of readiness standards, most of the states have not integrated fully into the K-12 standards the academic standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). Moreover, there is no State which has its entire system of higher education aligned with specific standards of career or college readiness and which can be shared and used by the two year and four year universities and colleges. In addition, some programs such as California’s EAP are not inclusive of signals for readiness (Spence, 2009).
Additionally, only few states have effectively addressed the requirement for the development of school-based tests which measure the progress of students on the readiness standards defined by the State (Spence, 2009). Another problem is that most States are fully reliant on the SAT and the ACT standardized examinations and the national admissions tests which, according to reference, do not provide measurements for the achievements of the students with reference to the college readiness standards recognized by the states (Callan et al., 2006). Finally, there is no state which has made the college readiness a concept that formally needs to be accounted for in the state school systems. The state of California is the only one with steps towards focusing high school seniors and the professional development of educators on the state’s standards of readiness. The state education boards, agencies, education sectors and officers and the executive and legislative branches have not been fast at uniting around the common objectives or a particular agenda on college readiness (Spence, 2009).
The slow progress can be blamed on multiple reasons, some being the lack of comprehension and commitment by the policy makers at the state level and some reasons being based on self interest and fears within the education sector (Spence, 2009). In general, there is however a strong need for increased understanding of the public regarding the problem of readiness and its significance and impact. The slow progress has also been due to the concern that the mission of delivering open access to the post secondary education and especially the community colleges may be limited through the statewide adoption of readiness standards (Schneider, 2007). Reference however argues that this is just the confusion between the admissions processes to colleges and college readiness (Schneider, 2007).
College readiness requires the simultaneous interaction of time, ideological forces, individual agency, organizational and social structures (Conley, 2009). Taking the complex perspective, the inability of the US to solve the challenges of smooth transition to college is an issue that can be understood. The persistence of the economic and racial gaps in the US attainment of post secondary education is difficult to solve without taking account of the complicated nature of college readiness (Jerald, Haycock and Wilkins, 2009). One of the ways in which the complex interaction of the inner and outer events can be dealt with is through examining the concept of college readiness within the context of student’s habits of mind, organizational culture of the particular campus and college knowledge of the students.
Many scholars have agreed that college readiness is essential for success in enrolling in college and attaining a college degree (Conley, 2008; Goree, 2013; Guerra, 2009; Kindle, 2012; Lane-Worley, 2013; Lee & Kim, 2010; Moore, Slate, Edmonson, Combs, Bustamante, & Onwuegbuzie, 2010; Rainey, 2012; Richardson, 2012; Spear, 2009; Tierney & Sablan, 2014). According to Carnevale and Strohl (2012), a third of those who do not complete college fail to do so largely due to a lack of college readiness. Indeed, Cobb, 2004; Conley, 2008; Sunderman, Kim, and Orfield, 2005 (as cited by Goree, 2013) posited “The goal of the American educational system is for every child to complete high school with the academic skills necessary to be successful in college” (p. 2).
Despite this wide acknowledgement, a majority of high school students in the US are ill-prepared for a college education. According to a study conducted by ACT (2004), most high schools in the country have not been achieving a sufficient level of college ready students. The author further states that a substantial number of students graduating from high schools in the US are not ready to join college or the labor force. The author also noted that little progress had been made within a decade from 1993 to 2003 in respect to helping high school students become college ready and that no favorable projection in this respect can be observed in the near future (ACT, 2004).
According to statistics, although 93 per cent of middle school students reported that they desired to join college, only about 44 per cent actually enroll in college and among the total number of students enrolling in colleges actually graduate and acquire a college diploma within six years of enrollment (Conley, 2012a and 2012b). In addition, a severe gap exists between student’s aspirations and their readiness for college-level work which has seen may students who enroll in college fail to graduate with a college degree. Research has also shown that although the proportion of middle and high school students who planned to join a college school rose from 67 per cent to 75 per cent (Metlfe, 2011), the percentage of American population aged between 25 and 29 who achieved a bachelors degree rose by a very small margin from 28 per cent to 32 per cent within the same period (Synder and Dillow, 2011).
According to Sanoff (2006), although there are discrepancies in results, there is a wide consensus among authors that college readiness for students is on the decline. The author particularly states that only 37 percent of the instructors in high school believed that their students were satisfactorily prepared for college while only 4 percent of the college faculty believed their students were college ready. In another study, only 9 percent of high school tutors believed that high school students were unprepared for college while 32 percent of the college faculty believed that their students are unprepared for college.
Similarly, a study conducted by ACT (2005) revealed that out of the students that met eligibility requirements in maths after completing algebra I and II as well as geometry, only 15 percent scored 22 out of 36, the threshold for college readiness. The authors used scores of 18 to indicate students that would need remediation in post secondary education and found that 85 percent of the students who had completed the three basic math tests were in need of remediation. This is an indication that it would difficult for these students to navigate through the mathematics offered in college which subsequently shows a continued decline in the probability of their earning a bachelor’s degree. For instance, reference has identified that only 8 percent of the tax payers within Texas State who are above 25 years and only 16 percent of the same population residing in urban areas has a college degree. While a multitude of factors could be cited to explain this tendency, it is merely an indication of the serious problems that college education is currently facing.
This study seeks to address the knowledge gap existing in regard to the social, contextual, and situational obstacles and enablers for college readiness across the United States. A large Texas high school, specifically a school selected from West Texas in the metropolitan city of El Paso, was chosen as the subject of this study in order to develop a framework that can be adopted by schools all over the country. To better understand the core topic of this dissertation paper and for the purposes of this study, college readiness is defined as the level of preparation a student needs to be successful without remediation courses in a tertiary education institution (Conley, 2007).
The purpose of this exploratory qualitative study is to examine perspectives of teachers on the obstacles and enablers that influence students’ college readiness from social, contextual, and situational viewpoints across students in the U.S. using a large Texas high school, specifically a school selected from West Texas, as the main subject of study. Particularly, the study will seek to determine the most common non-academic obstacles and enhancers of college education measured from the teachers’ perspectives and understanding. Some of the obstacles and enablers that have been identified as influencing student’s college readiness include time management skills, financial aspects, and social skills related to engagement with college faculty and other students which may affect college readiness (Tierney & Sablan, 2014). These obstacles and enablers can be expressed in a more comprehensive manner as key cognitive strategies, academic behaviors, and contextual skills and knowledge (Conley, 2008). In addition, the study will seek to establish whether promoting the identified non-academic enhancers to college readiness can improve high school student’s college readiness and come up with some of the ways in which teachers and instructors can eliminate the non-academic obstacles in their students to enhance of their college readiness.
The attitude and aspirations of high school students in the United States has shifted intensely over the last 50 years with sophomores aspiring to a college degree increasing from 41 percent in 1980 to 80 percent in 2002 (Venezia & Jaeger, 2013). Preparation for college readiness uses a variety of strategies ranging from academic preparation to psychosocial and behavioral supports as well as the development of applicable habits of the mind (Venezia & Jaeger, 2013). College readiness significantly impacts the individual and his/her immediate community, as well as their broader society. The lack of college readiness deprives the individual of possible opportunities, and the broader community of resources that the individual might have conveyed such as knowledge, skills, and socioeconomic resources (Rainey, 2012).
Rainey (2012) posited that the problems students may encounter due to a lack of college preparedness include the inability to complete their degree requirements and, consequently, eventual dismissal from the college or university. In addition, non-college ready students and their families may bear the significant financial burden of paying for remedial courses that do not confer credits toward their degree if they are unable to qualify for financial aid, as well as the cost of the additional time required for a student to graduate from college (Moore et al., 2010).
Undertaking a research study into the issue of college readiness which employs the approach of examining different contributing factors requires that the current research examine the concept of college readiness more broadly. This is because, restricting a study of such nature to the singe aspect of viewing the programs currently being implemented in schools today would repeat the same problem facing the field which isolates the concept of college readiness from the system from which it is strongly connected to (Noble and Radunzel, 2007). Moreover, there is evidence that assisting students in learning the non academic dimensions of post secondary education can result in academic success (Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, 2008).
More specifically, the measures that are currently being employed by schools have limitations with regard to their capability of communicating to educators and students the true range of what they ought to do in order to be ready for college success (ACT, 2004). Moreover, the use of the college choice theory and school effectiveness theory for mapping the current research helps in different ways. The current research examines the issue of college preparation in broader and in-depth conceptions including the knowledge of key content, the development of key cognitive strategies, the contextual knowledge and skill and favorable academic behaviors.
This means that the framework adopted in the current research of examining non-academic factors is a better and more comprehensive way of uncovering the issues underlying the concept of college readiness. Moreover, the examination of the relationship between the key issues identified and the environmental factors would lead to the identification of the underlying issues influencing college readiness which may not have been uncovered through a singular view of the readiness programs. The current research will therefore bring new knowledge to the field of college readiness, and suggest a more workable approach to dealing with the issue.
The intention of this study is to explore obstacles and enablers that may be present at a large Texas high school, specifically a school from West Texas, according to the understanding of teachers in that school which would help to effectively address the issue of college readiness and to examine the factors that influence college readiness other than those confined to academic knowledge. These factors range from academic preparation to social and behavioral support to development of habits of mind that facilitate preparation for college readiness such as organization, anticipation, persistence, and resiliency (Venezia & Jaeger, 2013). District and school administrators may find that incorporating the positive factors highlighted and measured in this study into their educational organization school culture will go a long way in contributing to facilitating college readiness. Moore et al. (2010) pointed out the loss of financial benefit to the community that exists when students do not finish their college degree is immeasurable. The importance of the study is to provide knowledge and information about the obstacles and enablers that may affect college readiness to the leadership of high schools in Texas and in the whole of U.S. in general.
The results obtained from the current research will also help inform decision making at various levels of education and policy making. At the high school level, the recommendations will be useful in assessing the impacts made in the various longitudinal programs instituted by schools, government and other nongovernmental organization. At the college level, the recommendations will enable a more informed and timely reach out programs and especially since it concerns the increased level of transition from high school to college by all kinds of students, including the less informed, less ready students from different academic, environmental, economic, cultural and social backgrounds. The conclusions drawn by the study will additionally be useful to government efforts towards closing the transition gap from high school to college by providing useful measures for ensuring the success of the programs through addressing the underlying concerns and anxieties of many contributing social factors and the would-be college attendees.
This qualitative exploratory study aims to examining teachers’ perspectives on the obstacles and enablers of college readiness in a U.S high school, particularly a school in a metropolitan city in West Texas, from social, contextual, and situational viewpoints. Quantitative studies, which address statistically the attainment of academic knowledge, have been abundant. Many educational scholars would agree that academic knowledge at a minimum college readiness level is essential for success in enrolling in college and attaining a college degree (Conley, 2008; Kindle, 2012; Goree, 2013; Guerra, 2009; Lane-Worley, 2013; Lee & Kim, 2010; Moore et al. 2010; Rainey, 2012; Richardson, 2012; Spear, 2009; Tierney & Sablan, 2014). Qualitative research studies phenomena in their natural settings and attempts to make sense of these social, contextual and situational phenomena in terms of the meanings people assign to them (Denzin, & Lincoln, (2011). Conley (2007) for instance stated that certain and specific cognitive strategies are closely related to college success and thus readiness for college, some of this strategies are for instance inquisitiveness, analysis, reasoning, and interpretation.
This research study aims at identifying the various obstacles and enhancers that influence college readiness for high school students in the U.S. The specific objectives to be met by the study are outlined as follows:
- Obtaining the perspectives of teachers on the various non-academic obstacles that contributed to lack of college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Obtaining the perspectives of teachers on the various non-academic enhancers that positively impact on college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Determining methods that teachers and schools can use to promote identified non-academic enhancers to improve high school student’s college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Develop ways through which teachers and schools can diminish or remove the identified non-academic obstacles in order to improve students’ college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
This study will aim to answer the following research question: What are the social, contextual, and situational obstacles and enablers that impact college readiness in a Texas high school? Particularly, the study will aim at answering the following research questions:
- Based on teachers’ perspectives, what are the non-academic obstacles causing lack of college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Based on teachers’ perspectives, what are the non-academic enhancers that positively impact on college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Based on teachers’ perspectives, how might promoting identified non-academic enhancers improve high school student’s college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
- Based on teachers’ perspectives, how can teachers diminish or remove identified non-academic obstacles to improve students’ college readiness in U.S. High Schools?
According to Lee and Kim (2005), “Existing research on factors that influence academic readiness for college draws on two competing perspectives: college choice theory and school effectiveness theory” (p. 16). College choice theory underlines students’ background characteristics such as socio-economic status (SES) and parental involvement (Choy, 2002). In an opposing viewpoint, school effectiveness theory sustains that high abandonment and lower persistence rates in tertiary education necessarily accompany inadequate high school preparation for college no matter what the students’ characteristics and family backgrounds were (Lee and Kim, 2005). This qualitative exploratory study will focus on the nonacademic aspects of college readiness, including time management skills, financial aspects, and the social skills required to engage with college faculty and other students (Tierney & Sablan, 2014), as well as a variety of strategies ranging from academic preparation to psychosocial and behavioral supports, and the development of applicable habits of the mind (Venezia & Jaegar, 2013).
A qualitative exploratory approach is the best method to examine this information. Other approaches (e.g., phenomenology and case study) were considered and discarded, as they do not provide the best lens for answering the research question. An example of this is that phenomenological research attempts to investigate the research from the experiences individual perceptions of the subjects of the study (Hamill and Sinclair, 2010). This does not meet the needs of the study as conceptualized for exploring the obstacles and enhancers to college readiness at the high school level.
Academic preparation: Academic knowledge acquired from high school curriculum sufficient for college readiness (Venezia & Jaeger, 2013; Conley & French, 2014).
College knowledge: Skills that enable students to interact with instructors and fellow students and navigate college administration (Conley, 2007).
College readiness. The level of preparation a student needs to be successful without remediation courses in a tertiary education institution (Conley, 2007).
Exploratory study. The intentional, systematic data collection designed to maximize discovery of generalizations based on description and direct understanding of an area of society (Stebbins, 2001).
First-generation students: Students whose parents have not attended college and are the first in their families to attend college (Soria & Stebleton, 2012).
Habits of mind: Specific behaviors that intelligent humans employ when confronted with problems that are not immediately known (Costa & Kallick, 2009). For example Venezia and Jaeger (2013) identify habits of mind such as organizational skills, anticipation, persistence, and resiliency (p. 117).
Obstacles and enablers: The social, contextual, and situational phenomena that positively or negatively influence college readiness.
This study will make the following assumptions:
- Sample population subjects will give truthful answers to interview questions.
- In the qualitative tradition, the researcher-as-a-tool will be able to mitigate or interpret any bias in the responses that the sample population subjects provide.
- Sample population subjects will provide answers that are in good faith during the interview process without any hidden agendas. Maxwell (2013) expressed the idea that “what people believe is shaped by their assumptions and prior experiences as well as the reality that they interact with” (p. 43).
This study will involve establishing the various obstacles and enhancers that influence student’s college readiness in high schools within the U.S. Due to resource limitations, the Texas State will be used to represent the entire U.S. with a large school in the state being chosen for the study. For purposes of this study, a West Texas High School situated in a metropolitan area in the city of El Paso in Texas was chosen to form the subject of this study. The scope of this dissertation paper will be limited to educators which have recent experience teaching students at the secondary school level. The study will only be measuring teacher’s perceptions on some of the various factors they consider the greatest obstacles and enhancers of their students’ college readiness. As such, participants for the study will constitute teachers who have current experience with students of to grades 9 to 12 from the selected school. Purposive sampling will be employed to ensure that only persons who can offer meaningful insight to our current study are selected to participate in the study.
One of the limitations of this study is the fact that this study intends to measure the perceptions and perspectives of teachers in regard to their students’ readiness for college. As such, the nature of the research does not allow generalisability of the study of the study results since these are individual sentiments that cannot be taken to be opinions of other concerned groups. Second, this campus had a Hispanic enrollment of 98% in the last Texas Education Agency Academic Report, which may possibly skew the findings of the study towards secondary education institutions with very high Hispanic populations (Texas Education Agency, 2012a). A third limitation is that the study will be highly dependent on teacher participation. Students will not be included in the study. Additionally, the study will be conducted in a limited time and date window and is not a longitudinal study. Consequently, the potential for generalization of the study results is limited. In addition, this research study gives little room for anonymity
This study will be delimited to a qualitative exploration of the obstacles and enablers of college readiness at a Texas high school. Data will be collected by the application of an open-ended interview of purposively selected high school teachers. The teachers chosen to participate in the study were delimited to grades 9 through 12 and all are delimited to the same high school campus located in the metropolitan area of the city of El Paso in Texas.
The importance and relevance of college readiness was discussed in the introduction to this dissertation paper. Indeed, it is fast becoming a national priority (Tierney & Sablan, 2014). This concern with college readiness has steadily risen to the top priority at all levels of government as well as state and local educational organizations (Tierney & Sablan, 2014). This is important because the percentage of high school sophomores that intend to attend college has almost doubled in the last 50 years (Venezia & Jaeger, 2013). The cost to individuals as expressed in investment of time and resources is considerable as well as the projected loss to the general community in terms of the skills, knowledge, and resources by individuals who truncate their attainment of a college degree is considerable (Rainey, 2013). This research study is organized into three main chapters: Introduction, literature review, and methodology and results chapters. The introduction chapter was intended to give the reader a deeper understanding of the background of the study. The theoretical framework guiding this research paper was provided in addition to the purpose of the study and scope. The study aims obtaining the perspectives of teachers on some of the enhancers and obstacles to college readiness of students as they transition from high school to postsecondary education. A large high school from West Texas was chosen for purposes of the study where 14 participants were interviewed using open-ended questions. Chapter Two will involve review of empirical evidence relating to our topic of study while Chapter Three will explain the method adopted to conduct this research study and discussion of the results of the study.
The existence of a gap between high school students and their college readiness has been identified by several scholarly researchers (Conley, 2008; Tierney & Sablan, 2014; Venezia and Jaeger, 2013). The purpose of this proposed study is to explore and examine the obstacles and enablers which influence college readiness from a qualitative viewpoint at the secondary education level that affect college readiness. While there are several research studies which have as a general topic the lack of college readiness in a significant number of new college students (Byrd and MacDonald, 2005; Conley, 2008; Gilroy, 2013) very few studies address the issue from the secondary education level (Radcliff and Bos, 2013).
Traditionally, studies on college readiness have focused on the academic knowledge necessary for college level course work (Barnes, 2010; Chapa, 2014). This doctoral proposal will focus on the obstacles and enablers from the social, contextual, and situational point of view at a large comprehensive west Texas high school. Perna and Titus (2005) suggested that school context delimits student readiness for college.
Various research documents, government studies, and journals were included in the literature review for this dissertation proposal. They were retrieved from University of Phoenix Online Library and several government sites and reports. Online databases include Proquest, EBSCOhost, ERIC, JSTOR, SAGE Journals. Foundational textbooks from doctoral courses and eBooks from University of Phoenix eBook collection were used as reference. Keyword searches used were college readiness, gaps in college readiness, qualitative and college readiness, college readiness and first time college students, college readiness and organizational culture, habits of mind, high school and college readiness, TEA and college readiness.
Studies addressing college readiness from various perspectives have been undertaken in the past. These have ranged from first generation students, inequality, parental involvement, early college high schools, behavioral skills, student habits, organization influence on behavior, alignment between high school and college curriculum, educational leadership, school characteristics, academic readiness, and the historical importance of college readiness. In this paper, we will look into a wide range of these aspects grouped into the following sub-topics: college readiness; habits of mind; organizational culture of college; and college knowledge.
The transition from high school to college has been addressed using numerous labels including college transition, choice, success, access and preparation (Allensworth and Easton, 2005). While access to college has been regarded as having the same meaning as eligibility, enrollment and acceptance in an institution of post secondary education has been regarded as different from the failure to attend college. The emphasis on the preparedness of students for post secondary institutions has led to the birth of the term “college readiness” (ACT, 2007).
College readiness has been defined as the capacity of students to enroll at an institution of post secondary education, take classes that will bear credit in their first year and pass their courses and persist in their goals of education (Conley, 2008). Conley further defines college readiness as the degree of preparation that is required for a student for the enrollment and success, without remediation in a general education course that will bear credit and within a post secondary institution offering baccalaureate degree or to transfer to a baccalaureate program. In this case, the word success can be taken to mean the completion of entry level courses at a degree of proficiency or understanding which permits the student to consider the next course within the same subject area (Conley, 2008).
It is important that a distinction is made between college eligibility and college readiness. In this context, Zelkowski (2011) defines college eligibility as achieving the threshold to graduate from high school and to gain admission at a public college. On the other hand, the author distinguishes college readiness from college eligibility by stating that college readiness implies accomplishing highly recommended suggestions for course taking with the aim of improving college readiness, taking the rigorous advanced subjects in the student’s senior year and meeting the threshold of college entrance scores as a prediction for the successful completion of the core courses offered at entry level (Zelkowski, 2011).
College readiness is composed of several concepts comprising of numerous variables including factors that are both external and internal to the school environment. The model shown below (Figure 1) attempts to offer a functional representation of the main aspects of college readiness and organizes the key components of college preparedness into four concentric levels (Lundell et al., 2004). Among the four key aspects of college readiness, knowledge and skills have been drawn from literature review and are identified as those that are most directly shaped by schools. However, in practice, the different elements of college readiness are not mutually exclusive as may be portrayed by the model. Rather, they interact with each other extensively (Lundell et al., 2004). For instance, lack of college knowledge will most often affect the decisions made by a student regarding particular content knowledge they undertake to study and master. Similarly, failure to focus on academic behaviors has been identified as one of the most common causes of challenges for first-year students, regardless of whether or not they have mastered the necessary content knowledge or key cognitive strategies.
Figure 1: Components of College Readiness
These components are properly explained as follows:
i) Key Cognitive Strategies
The learning of advanced concepts and topics needs increasingly complex thinking structures and more significant; abstract thinking which emerges through different stages of an individual’s intellectual development (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). According to reference, the most important cognitive strategies which underlie the ways of knowledge acquisition include research, problem formulation, interpretation, precision, communication of well-reasoned arguments, as well as accuracy (Costa and Kallick, 2009). In the same way reference expects college students to have the capability of arriving at conclusions, interpreting results, assessing different explanations, solving complex problems, conducting and presenting research, collaborating in group work, and thinking more deeply. Additionally, reference places emphasis on the significance of wide, interdisciplinary skills for instance having the capability to distinguish between different textual formats, reading, rewriting and editing (Smith and Kirby, 2001).
The development of an individual with regard to these dimensions emanates from practice and leads to the capability of succeeding in the tasks with increased complexity (Conley, 2005). The skills are also useful for the individuals as they enable the person to learn concepts that are more advanced in different subjects including mathematics, social sciences, and English with increased levels of complexity of the knowledge and the skills needed. The acquisition of the basic understanding of geometry and algebraic expressions for instance position individuals towards success in college calculus and trigonometry (Conley, 2004).
Numerous studies of the faculty members in different colleges in the US agree that the students that enroll for their first year are not very well prepared for the intellectual expectations and demands of post secondary education (Conley, 2008). The students have problems with formulating problems and solving them, assessing and integrating reference material in the right way, and creating a logical and rational argument, interpreting data or explaining views that are conflicting and completing their projects and assignments with accuracy and precision (Conley, 2008).
The core cognitive strategies widely represent the basic elements which underlie the different ways of acquiring knowledge. They form the core of intellectual endeavor and provide the necessity for the discernment of meaning and truth and the pursuance of them (Costa and Kalick, 2009). The success gained by a college student regarded to be well prepared is constructed on important cognitive strategies which make it possible for the students to learn across disciplines. Such strategies include the formulation of problems and solving them, reasoning, proof and argumentation, accuracy and precision, interpretation and research (Vermunt, 1996).
The formulation and solving of problems involves the development and the application of numerous strategies for the formulation and solving of routine and the non routine problems and the selection of the appropriate technique for solving such complex problems (Vermunt, 1996). Reasoning, proof and argumentation involves a proper construction of arguments that are well reasoned for explaining issues or phenomena, the employment of various forms of reasoning for the purpose of constructing arguments and defending conclusions or points of view. Moreover, it involves the acceptance of critics, challenging assertions and addressing the critiques through the provision of counter arguments, logical explanations or through acknowledging that the challenge or the critique is accurate.
Accuracy and precision is a skill that involves the knowledge of the appropriate type of precision to the subject area or task, the capability to increase accuracy or precision for repetitive processes and the appropriate use of precision to arrive at correct conclusions in the subject context (Winne and Jamieson-Noel, 2002). Interpretation on the other hand involves the analysis if conflicting and competing descriptions of events in order to determine the underlying strengths and weaknesses surrounding each of the descriptions and the common issues between them. It also involves synthesis of results into coherent explanations. Lastly, it involves stating the interpretation that has a higher likelihood of being correct or more reasonable on the basis of the evidence available and the oral presentation of a summary, extended description and assessment of the different opinions and points that conflict on an issue or topic (Winne and Jamieson-Noel, 2003).
Research involves the engagement in an active enquiry and dialog regarding subject matter, and the search for evidence for the defense of arguments or reasoning (Winne and Marx, 1977). It also involves the documentation of assertions and the development of an argument which is an extension of the previous arguments or findings. It involves the employment of the right references for the support of the assertion made and the identification and evaluation of data, sources, material and the consideration of issues such as credibility, validity and the relevance of the subject of inquiry. It also involves making comparisons and contrasts of findings and the sources and generating explanations and summaries of the source materials (Winne and Marx, 1977).
ii) Academic Behaviors
The academic behaviors which in general have a relationship with self-management include behaviors which give a reflection of greater self-monitoring, awareness as well as self control of sequential behaviors and processes that are required for academic success (Radcliffe and Bos, 2013). Additionally, reference denotes that academic behaviors for instance self-awareness, self-management, self-discipline and self-monitoring comprise an additional set of skills and actions that are required by students in their mastery of concepts and skills. Moreover, behaviors for instance time management and self monitoring of assignment quality are among the basic concepts that comprise college readiness (Radcliffe and Bos, 2013).
The characteristics form the backbone of the study skills for instance organization, recording, synthesis, remembrance and information use (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The skills in turn have an impact on the academic performance in college. The capability of estimating the time taken for the completion of assignments and the capability of studying effectively are additionally of importance to a student’s success (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). One can assume that stronger academic behaviors give a student increased capability of allocating energy, time and resources towards the mastery of content. In return, the student has a greater probability of becoming more academically prepared, learning the admissions process and developing college readiness.
Reference further denotes that with regard to the academic behaviors, the level of success in students increase with increased levels of self-regulation, engagement, and self-determination (Winne and Jamieson-Noel, 2003). Irrespective of the overarching importance of the development of study skills, such skills may not be learnt in school. Rather, such behaviors need constant training and practice at an individual level. The interaction between the environment and the qualities of a person mutually constitute each other for instance, the development of the academic behaviors are likely to be self-reinforcing (Winne and Jamieson-Noel, 2002). This is evident in cases whereby the students that have positive outcomes emerging from their academic behaviors have increased motivation towards the development of skills that are more advanced. The behaviors encompassed go beyond the content areas.
Time management is regarded as the most basic skill and comprises the capability of estimating the time required for the completion of the outstanding tasks and those that are anticipated in an accurate manner, using calendars and the creation of the to-do lists for the organization of study into chunks of time that are productive, the allocation of enough time for the completion of tasks, the location and use of contexts which are conducive to the proper studies and the prioritization of the study times as it concerns the competing demands for instance socializing versus studying (Veenman et al., 2003).
Reference defined self discipline as the quantity of time spent by students on their course work and the level at which they regard themselves as putting effort towards the completion of homework (Vancouver et al., 2002). Reference further postulates that self discipline has a positive correlation with the average grade point achieved in high school and the composite scores of the ACT tests. The self discipline is further regarded as a more enhanced predictor of achievement in comparison with demographic classification in the context of post secondary retention and academic performance in college (Vancouver et al., 2002). This factor is closely related to motivation as the factors concern the selective reaction to academic assignments.
This is regarded as a form of metacognition, having thoughts about an individual’s way of thinking. Research indicates that effective learners have the tendency of actively monitoring, regulating, and directing their individual thoughts (Conley, 2008). The areas in which self-management is made manifest include the level of an individual’s understanding and mastery of a specific subject, the capability of reflecting on what has been worked and what requires improvement with regard to a specific academic task, the capability of persisting when one is presented with a difficult, novel, or ambiguous assignment, and the tendency of identifying and systematically amassing and using a spectrum of learning strategies and transferring the strategies and learning from familiar situations and circumstances to new circumstances (Conley, 2008).
Reference regards study skills as another set of important skills for success in college (Conley, 2008). The courses in college require students to devote significant time towards studying out of the classroom. The study skills comprise strategies for active learning which exceed text reading and providing answers to the questions given as homework. Study skill behaviors require effective time management, the use of information resources, prioritization of tasks, communication with teachers and taking class notes (Conley, 2008). This also encompasses the capability of taking part in study groups and recognizing their potential value.
iii) Key Content Knowledge
Content knowledge is described as the critical academic skills including writing and reading and the core subjects’ skills and knowledge comprising science, mathematics, social studies, English, arts and world languages (Radcliffe and Bos, 2013). To some level, the poor college outcomes have been blamed on low academic preparation levels, but even the students who are considered to be highly academically prepared also struggle to remain in college (Mechur, 2012). For instance, a study of college students in Virginia established that almost a quarter of those that enroll in first level colleges for Math or English credit fail. In another study which involved new students in the community colleges in Virginia, less than a third of those that did not engage into the developmental course work had credential with four years (Mechur, 2012). The struggle for college persistence among the students considered to be academically proficient shows that college readiness goes beyond the academic skills gained.
Studies indicate that the most important predictor of success in college is the rigor of the high school courses taken (Edmunds, 2012). The author further notes that taking the important courses need to begin when the student is in ninth grade. Moreover the author reports that a study which examined the high school transcripts established that only about 6 percent of the students in California who did not complete Algebra I by the time they were finishing their ninth grade had completed the courses they needed for college at the end of their last year in high school (Edmunds, 2012).
This means that the schools that need to increase the level of college readiness of their students need to be keen on courses that the students take at their ninth grade for the purpose of ensuring that the content is in alignment that end at the commencement of the college expectations. For students to be successful in courses that are challenging, they require social, emotional and academic support.
According to reference, the need for more than academic proficiency is not new for researchers. Reference for instance reports that many researchers have established that new students in college need to learn to navigate complex systems of bureaucratic needs, learn new strategies of time management and study habits and take part in new types of social associations (Salili et al., 2001). The students that lack this knowledge have a lower probability of being successful in their college life even is the students posses the needed academic skills.
This argument has been recently refined by various policy makers and scholars with attempts towards specifying the kinds of the nonacademic skills and knowledge that the students require for the successful transition from high school to college. Models of college readiness have been presented with Mechur (2012) stating that the cognitive strategies, academic content and behaviors include the awareness of contextual skills and analytic thinking for instance an understanding of the processes and culture of colleges. Reference further argues that the students who have a successful transition to post secondary institutions have strong skills in goal orientation, time management and have the capability of advocating for themselves for the purpose of getting help and comprehending the college procedures and systems (Mechur, 2012).
According to reference, there is a need to increase the level of critical thinking among high school students as well as their study skills as a way of preparing them for higher education (Conley, 2003a). The core academic subjects associated with college readiness include the knowledge of English, world languages, social studies, arts and mathematics. The knowledge and understanding of the subjects provide the skills required to solve the complex problems in the courses chosen in college.
The skills and knowledge built in the English courses taken at the entry level gives the students the capability of critically engaging texts and developing well written and supported products. The basics of English include reading, comprehension, writing, editing and the collection, connecting, critiquing and analyzing information (Conley, 2004). The readiness to succeed in courses of that sort requires the development of word analysis and vocabulary skills. For instance, the techniques for example strategic reading are required to enable the comprehension of wide ranging technical and nonfiction. The knowledge of how reduce pace for the purpose of gaining an understanding of texts, the point at which a text needs to be re-read as well as the strategic underlining of the key concepts and terms in order to highlight only important points helps in understanding and retaining the key content (Conley, 2004).
The objective of studying a second language is for the effective communication and the reception of communication from other persons who speak different language cultural contexts that are authentic. The learning of another language goes beyond the memory of the grammatical rules and requires comprehension of the cultural context by the learner and the employment of the first language and culture as a model to compare with the second language (Horn et al., 2004). There exists therefore a need to gain understanding of the structure and language conventions of a language and not the singly word-by-word translations of the decontextualized grammar rules. This means that there is a need for a more holistic mastery of meaning both holistically and within the appropriate context.
The social sciences present different subject areas with distinct analytical methods, content base and conventions. The analytical techniques which are common across the social studies include the emphasis on the skills for the interpretation of the sources, the evaluation of evidence and the competing arguments, and the comprehension of themes and events that occur within larger structures. It also enables the students to have knowledge of the concepts and theories which are employed for the purpose of ordering and structuring the overwhelming details which can be of help in constructing mental scaffolds which result in appropriate and contextual thinking (Venezia et al., 2004).
Arts comprise dance, history, visual arts, theatre and music. Students that are ready for study at the college level understand and appreciate the contributions that have been made by the innovative developers within the field. The students view themselves as instruments through which expression and communications occurs and demonstrate the mastery of physical and oral expression through movement, visual and sound representations. They also have an understanding of the role that arts play as a tool for political and social expression. They have the capability of justifying their aesthetic decisions in the development of and performance of a piece of work and the knowledge of decision making with regard to the performance or the exhibition of any creative product (Standards of Success, 2003).
Students having a thorough understanding of the foundational contexts, techniques and principles of algebra have a higher likelihood of succeeding on the entry level mathematics courses. Past research shows that students taking increased levels of mathematics have a higher likelihood of pursuing higher education and having higher earnings after college (Gaertner, et al., 2014). However, the majority of the research that focuses on the connection between the math course taking in high school and subsequent results following college completion.
Students that are college ready understand more than the formulas employed and have the capability of using the concepts they understand for the purpose of extracting a problem from a specific situation, solving it and interpreting the solution in a manner that is appropriate to the context. They have the knowledge of the manner and the time of conducting estimations for the purpose of determining the reasonability of their answers and have the capability of employing their calculators as tools.
Lastly, the sciences courses in college place emphasis on the scientific thinking in all dimensions. Apart from employing the steps in the scientific techniques, the students gain knowledge on thinking as a scientist (Conley, 2006b). This comprises the scientists’ conventions of communication, the employment of empirical evidence in coming up with conclusions and the manner in which the conclusions are subject to interpretation and critique. The skills gained in science enable students to appreciate the constancy and shifts in scientific knowledge and that its evolution does not make the previous knowledge wrong. They also gain an understanding that scientists’ thoughts are organized into systems and models as the means of comprehending complex issues. They gain mastery of the laws, principles, concepts and vocabulary in the specific discipline studied (Conley, 2006b).
iv) Contextual Skills and Awareness
An important component of college readiness is the academic preparation which involves the knowledge of content and the academic skills that will enable one to succeed in college (Edmunds, 2012). In order for a student to be regarded as college ready, the student has to master the basic concepts in the most important subject areas and gain ways of thinking. The entire learning process is additive and dynamic and the knowledge gained before college has an influence on the subsequent capability of the students to acquire advanced concepts and the probability of acquiring the same (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The cognitive effort needed for the acquisition of both new and associated content reduces when the knowledge required is stored and is already organized in schemata. This makes the previous experiences of learning chunking, familiarity with the problems presented and other process of cognition makes individuals gain knowledge in an easier and effective way (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
Based on the definition offered in previous parts in respect to college readiness, a student is therefore considered to be college ready when they possess the capability of comprehending the expectations of the college course taken, have the capability of coping with the course content and have the capability of developing important intellectual lessons and the disposition conveyed by the course design. Such a student also has the capability of comprehending the structure and the culture of post secondary education, the means of achieving knowledge and the intellectual norms inherent in the social and academic environment.
Making sure that students have college readiness is therefore more complicated as opposed to simply ensuring that students take ACT or the SAT examinations at the right time. Reference recommends that the schools hard work on college readiness ought to give specific focus to the development of college readiness behaviors and skills. Making sure that students are ready for college education requires in-depth effort (ACT, 2006).
The policy makers, public, employers and educators have gained increased awareness that gaining a high school diploma is not a signal for readiness for college success. Reference reports an analysis of a large sample of students based on the ACT data in the conclusions arrived at indicated that a quarter of the graduates from high school are sufficiently prepared for the course work at college level in their core subjects (ACT, 2006). Moreover, meeting the requirements for eligibility and gaining acceptance to colleges or universities does not have the same meaning as college readiness. Edmunds (2012) further denotes that the concept of college readiness is complex and involves the behaviors, the knowledge and skills, attitudes and the awareness of the college admissions processes.
There has been a vigorous debate among the policy makers and educators in the US regarding post secondary readiness. This began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983 (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). This congressional report represented statistics which showed a severe picture of the state of preparedness of the US high school students for the new century, with approximately 13 percent of persons who are 17 years of age being presented as illiterate functionally with just a third having the capability of solving math problems that required numerous steps.
Costa and Kallick (2009) describe a habit of mind as a pattern of intellectual behaviors which are conducive to effective actions; it is a composite of many skills, attitudes, past experiences and tendencies. Venezia and Jaeger (2013) advanced the arguments that far too many graduating high school students enter college without the basic academic knowledge, skills, or habits of mind to succeed. Habits of mind refer to problem solving, life-related skills that enable an individual to operate within their situational circumstances and which help promote strategic reasoning, perseverance, insightfulness, creativity and craftsmanship. Researchers argue that the development of habits of mind among individuals come as a result of interactions that are reciprocal in nature with the environment of the individual (Roeser et al., 1996). The attributes that shape the individual are biological, emotional, cognitive and behavioral in nature and they have the capability of instigating college readiness development. Even though such characteristics do not have the ability to influence the future of the student, the characteristics that are environmentally instigated act as the sources of differences between the individual’s vulnerability to the impacts of development which emanate from the conditions within the individual’s environment and from the enduring interactive patterns between the individual and the environment (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
Habits of mind imply that there are differences between individuals in their selection, experience and instigation of process within the individual’s environment. The variations produced by these habits of mind, as opposed to the static demographic traits which are static in nature, have the greatest influence on the direction and result of continuous development (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). Such attributes have an impact on the subsequent experiences of individuals and are formed partly by experience and partly through classroom learning. Habits of mind mean that the individuals are both producers and products of their environment. High aspirations for instance may be the outcome of the experience in the family or at school and at the same time; they drive the student towards behaviors and decisions that have an impact on the subsequent experiences. These instigative attribute affect development in three ways including the force characteristics, resource characteristics and demand characteristics.
The force characteristics are a predisposition to the individuals’ response to their environment. They manifest as varied values, interests, belief systems and goals in relation to the objects, symbols and persons within their environment and relates to the self (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The force characteristic is defined as driving the manner in which the individuals are involved with their environments and as such their means of experiencing proximal developmental processes. The perception of individual abilities and the likelihood of earning a college degree is a factor with the likelihood of impacting on their behaviors in a manner that provides support to their college readiness.
The structuring proclivity causes individuals to look for different levels of complexity within their environment. The directive perceptions or beliefs concerning their own agency additionally inform the behavior of the individual and their perception of what they expect the probability of the result of their actions to be. For instance, persons having a strong level of self-efficacy have a higher probability of taking advanced course work. Such individuals exhibit strong habits of mind in their choice of advanced mathematics for the purpose of earning college credits as opposed to their peers who may prefer the easiest mathematics classes because it requires less effort. Moreover, persons planning to attend college may probably attend the college affairs organized by their schools, take part in more co-curricular activities and begin to look for information regarding the admissions process of the desired college. This is evident of the existence of strong habits of mind.
Research refers to habits of mind as the knowledge, abilities and the skills that make it possible for an individual to be involved in more complex interactions in a developmental way within their environment (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). For instance, knowledge on sources of financial aid enables a student to regard college attendance as possible and as such begin to prepare for the same. In the same light, the basic knowledge of subject matter gives them the ability to learn concepts that are more advanced within the discipline chosen.
Further, the habits of mind of an individual comprise the characteristics impact an individual’s response that they elicit or invite from their environment (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). Students for example who have high college aspirations or academic motivation might be more attended to by their teachers and might also receive recommendations for special experiences for college preparation. Some of the attributes associated to habits of mind that have a bearing on college readiness include student aspirations, self-efficacy and motivation.
The aspiration to attend college is core factor for driving college readiness. As assumption is made that an increased desire for a college degree increases the likelihood of engaging in preparatory behaviors for instance finding out more information on the requirements for admissions, participating in programs aimed at college readiness, and doing assignments. Further, there is support for the relationship between aspiration and the other components of college readiness. The study conducted by Marrern and Shaw (2010) established a correlation between the degree aspiration of persons taking SAT and the scores they achieved in college examination as well as the academic accomplishments in high school and in their first year in college.
In general, the educational attainment of students corresponds with their performance in academics. Other authors acknowledge that the plans or the aspirations of individuals alone is not a guarantee for the academic preparation but has a relationship with the outcomes of college enrollment outcomes (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The assessment of the programs for college preparation agrees with the relationship between the anticipation of college enrollment and the individual’s level of academic preparedness (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
The individual aspirations are constructed by the social environment. There are scholars whose findings indicate a difference in the aspirations of individuals across varied demographics. For instance, some authors have established that the aspirations of the first generation students are lower compared to the other students (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). Students who are educationally and economically challenged have a lower likelihood of reporting that they have expectations of attending college compared to the wealthier students (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
In terms of gender differences, literature indicates that females have higher career aspirations and this begins right from their elementary level. Blackhursr and Augur (2008) established that there is a higher likelihood of girls aspiring for careers which require a college degree than boys. Because of the motivational influence of the career objectives on the academic accomplishments and the development of the required skills, the recommendations of Blackhursr and Augur (2008) supports the importance of an early awareness of the abilities and interests of students.
This is defined as the belief that an individual has the capability of acting in a manner that result in the accomplishment of the desired results (Smith et al., 2002). The belief has an impact on the comprehension of feelings of students with regard to the means and whether to apply for college (Smith et al., 2002). This factor is shaped by the messages received by individuals as well as their experiences over a long period. The increase in the feelings of capability increases the probability of engaging in tasks which have increased complexity for instance thorough coursework. They also have a higher likelihood of seeing themselves as having the capability to attend college and a higher probability of following through their higher education plans.
Positive self-efficacy accounts for 25 percent of the variance in academic achievement and has a positive relationship with adjustment for new college students (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). A meta-analysis of the predictors of college outcomes found that there is a strong relationship between self-efficacy and the cumulative average of the grade points in college following controls with the grades scored in high school, the standardized test scores and the socioeconomic status of the students (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). When data from the College Board was examined, the findings showed the existence of a strong relationship between the perceptions of high school students with regard to their self-efficacy and their performance in college (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
Similar to the other characteristics that instigate development, self-efficacy can be considered as the product of and the producer of the environmental effects. For instance, the hobbies associated with engineering and the previous coursework have an impact on the self-efficacy of engineering students (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). Dweck (2000) found that the perception of college undergraduates regarding their own intelligence can be influenced positively in the case that academic learning shows forth their strengths. The author also established that students having the belief that intelligence can be shifted as opposed to being fixed have a higher likelihood of improving their skills and taking advantage of opportunities for learning.
The beliefs that individuals have are formed by means of personal experiences and the social perceptions of groups involved with. For example, there is a persistence of the gendered belief regarding mathematics with male students overestimating their abilities to learn math as opposed to their female counterparts who underestimate theirs (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). Gaining an understanding the strengths and weaknesses at an individual level enables the students to make a choice regarding right contexts and activities and helps them to look out for support and gain from support when it is needed (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The individuals also appraise hazards and opportunities differently within their environment.
Reference defines motivation as the process in which behaviors that are goal directed are initiated and sustained. Research has always made a distinction between the intrinsic and the extrinsic forms of motivation, stating that intrinsic motivation involves learning something for the inherent interest while the extrinsic motivation refers to the learning of something as a means towards the end. The concept of motivation and particularly intrinsic motivation has a positive relationship with academic outcomes.
As one of the non academic factors, it is regarded as having among the strongest influence on the college grades. It tends to reduce with increased advance through high school and many times is lower for high school students in comparison with those in elementary or college levels. This makes the students many times bored and with the tendency towards performing poorer in their academic work.
Reference indicated that certain programs in high schools for instance the enrollment in dual programs increase the level of motivation to attend college. The dual enrollment enables the students to take courses that are challenging and further motivates them towards having an in-depth involvement in learning (Valle et al., 2003). The enrollees have also been reported as enjoying the academic challenge posed to them and do not struggle to learn and in many cases, those that feel overwhelmed many times persevere because of the development of study habits, organizational habits and resilience towards the course content (Valle et al., 2003).
The studies indicating the motivational results of dual learning indicate that there is a need for the course content in high school to provide some level of challenge to the students in order to stir them towards the development of college readiness skills aforementioned. However, it is also worth noting that such programs and interventions can work when students have a determination and see the possibility of attending college. The implication is that a student hat has given up on the possibility of attending college because of issues including the perceived impossibility of getting financial aid, a low perception of their ability and little resilience to the admissions process and especially when it proves to be challenging to first generation students.
Deal (as cited in Woodall, 2004) stated that a building supervisor’s principal challenge is to reinforce those aspects of culture that are positive and improve those that are negative and dysfunctional. Another aspect of the possible influence of an educational organizations culture over its students is related to the acceptance and commitment that these students feel to the goals and values of the institution (Daily, Bishop, & Maynard-Patrick, 2013). Daily et al. propose that responsibility toward the goals and values of the educational institution is then more likely to have an effect of higher academic performance.
Academic optimism and Academic press are two constructs that form part of a school’s culture and both have been associated to school achievement (Kirby & DiPaola, 2011). Kirby and DiPaola stated that academic optimism was identified as the shared belief that academic achievement is important, that faculty has the ability to help students reach academic achievement and those students and parents can be trusted to cooperate with teachers while academic press is the level to which a school is motivated by academic excellence.
Studies highlight certain attributes of high schools that promote increased levels of academic achievement while at the same time promoting the equitable measures of accomplishment across varied student demographics. Particularly, researchers conclude that high schools having positive social learning environments and those that basically emphasize on higher education have increased levels of academic achievements in comparison to schools which struggle with disciplinary issues and which focus on the achievements in co-curricular activities or executing a disciplinary policy as opposed to educational accomplishments. According to literature, the demographic gaps in academic achievement decreases in high schools having an orderly climate. Additionally, the smaller differentiation between the social classes is linked with schools of smaller sizes, effective and fair disciplinary programs and the decreased variation in the patterns of mathematics course taking.
Empirical evidence that has shaped our view of organizational culture relates to school context research, college access research, school culture and social change research (Bryk, Lee and Holland, 1993; Boyle, 1966; Powell, 1996; Flasey and Heyns, 1984). Research has documented evidence on the powerful influence that the high school environment has on the aspirations and college readiness of students. Particularly, four elements of high school culture have been noted to have a tremendous effect on college readiness including: college preparatory curriculum; a school staff which is collectively committed to the individual goals of students in college; resources designated to advising and counseling college bound students; and high academic standards with both formal and informal communication systems aimed at promoting and supporting college expectations of students (Alexander & Eckland, 1977; Coleman, 1987; Cookson and Persell, 1985; Coleman, Hoffer and Kilgore, 1982; McDonough, 1997; Hotchkiss and Vetter, 1987).
According to McDonough (1998; 1997; 1991), there is a need to gain a deeper understanding of college readiness from the organizational culture viewpoint so as to comprehend the role played by schools in reproducing social inequalities in education. In addition, her work highlighted the need to develop a college culture that increases college readiness for students from backgrounds of low-income, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college bound students. Several principles have been identified as constituting a concrete college culture capable of preparing students of all backgrounds for a wide array of postsecondary options and readiness.
Table 1: Selected features of Negative and Positive Organizational Culture
The left column indicates a culture that does not allow enhancement of student outcomes while the right column indicates cultural elements that have been shown to support personalization and enhance student outcomes.
|Negative School Culture||Positive School Culture|
|The school culture is focused on the needs of the adults in the building||The school culture is focused on what is best for the students|
|What is being taught is most important||What is being learned is most important|
|The emphasis is on covering the subject matter content||The emphasis is on students demonstrating mastery of content|
|Teachers tend to “close their door” and teach in isolation||Teachers work together in collaborative teams|
|Teachers rarely interact with one another regarding professional practices||Sharing of professional practices happens on a regular basis|
|Assessments are rarely given, summative in nature, and tend to be tests used to reward and punish student performance||Assessments are frequent, balanced, formative in nature, and used to inform instruction|
|Common assessments have not been developed||Common assessments are regularly used in all core content areas|
|Support programs are designed to remediate learning||Support programs are designed to intervene for successful learning|
|The staff isolates the students into “your kids and my kids”||The staff embraces the students as “our kids”|
|Professional development efforts are not focused on school improvement goals||Professional development is individualized, on-going, job-embedded, and designed to aid in school improvement efforts|
|Grading policies are punitive in nature and discourage students||Grading policies enhance student motivation and encourage students to never give up|
Adapted from Judith, Richardson (2009). “Breaking Ranks: A field Guide for Leading Change.” NASSP, pp. 60-63
Principles of College Culture
Some of the principles that are considered conducive in enhancing college readiness of students include:
- College Talk
One of the most common aspects of organizational culture identified by empirical evidence is the need to recognize the importance of both formal and informal networks of communication. The study by Perrow (1979) has documented how individual behavior is shaped by the manner in which information flows and its contents, particularly in regard to how information emphasizes on or downplays certain aspects of a given object. In addition, the flow of organizational information is based on assumptions that the participants (students) are familiar with the basic information, vocabularies, and prerequisites contained in the information being passed across. Research has revealed that school staff members influence college plans of students in daily interactions, even when they are not subjecting students to given college preparatory programs, but rather by being considered to be more knowledgeable about and by continuously talking about the college, which serves to reinforce students’ expectations (Hotchkiss and Vetter, 1987). According to McDonough (1998, 1997), college cultures have been shown to invisibly and effortlessly influence students’ college readiness and decision-making from interactions with staff members who are the primary students’ informers on college requirements, resources, and vocabularies.
- Clear Expectations
Researchers have determined that students’ individual academic expectations play a crucial role in forming college aspirations and enrollment (Hearn, 1987; Cabrera and La Nasa, 2000) and in most cases has been the most powerful predictor of successful completion of the four-year college course (Thomas, 1980). This indicates that longstanding college goals increase exponentially the likelihood of successful enrollment and completion of college (Alexander and Cook, 1979). In this light, if the college goals and expectations and formed by the time a student is in eighth grade, they are able to stimulate college plans in addition to motivating the student to maintain high scores and undertake the necessary extracurricular activities to enabled them join college (Cabrera and La Nasa, 2000; McDonough, 1997; Hossler, Schmit and Vesper, 1999). Developing college plans when a student is still in eighth grade is also a crucial precondition to maintaining a good academic performance to ensure that one is enrolled in a good college (Cabrera and La Nasa, 2000). However, in order for students to develop such positive measures, students need to be properly counseled by those surrounding them.
The expectations that counselors and teachers have of their students, and which are then communicated to the students, are critical to the development and retention of college aspirations. Research has shown that students’ plans for college are greatly influenced by the normative expectations existing among students, parents and faculty members of the school (McDonough, 1997). Students for whom these expectations are inexistent fail to be college ready because they are deprived of the support, resources, and information that is necessary to prepare them for college. High schools must therefore set high expectations for students and create an enabling environment that ensures all students are college ready.
- Information and Resources
Hossler, Schmit & Vesper (1999) highlight three important stages of college readiness: predisposition, search and choice. For each of these very stages, it is paramount that students be provided with accurate and up-to-date information to ensure they are able to make informed decisions about their educational future. For instance, the first stage, predisposition, denotes a stage where students learn about reasonable aspirations and will therefore require information regarding various kinds of colleges and universities and their admission requirements. Similar kind of information will also be necessary to enable them search and choose and college or university of their liking. Schmit (1991) states that as students advance through these phases their level of readiness to actively search for information on their own may vary greatly. As such, they are heavily reliant on their schools, especially during the early phases, to give them directions they can explore. As Hotchkiss and Vetter (1987) stated, each of these phases is highly influenced by purposeful sharing of information as well as subtle messages communicated using vital resources. A high school having a good college culture ensures that the faculty and parents are willing and ready partners to assist the students in all phases of the information gathering process for increased college readiness of students.
- Comprehensive Counseling Model
In their role of advising students, college counselors create and communicate the school’s normative expectations to students. To that extent, schools and college counselors construct the students’ worldview in regard to their own experience and knowledge base as well as the perceptions they have of parents’ and community’s expectations of the best college destinations (McDonough, 1997). To be college ready, students require more than mere information; they need professional counselors who will interact with them and help make meaning of the information, personalize it, offer insight and answer arising questions (McDonough, 1999). In addition, school counselors can help students deal with pressure and stress that come with the mayhem of pursuing college eligibility and competitiveness of high school. Despite this important role of school counselors, the training programs offered to counselors is not adequate to prepare them fully for the college advising activities and competing organization priorities relating to scheduling, discipline and testing which pose a structural barrier to proper counseling (McDonough, 2002). A good organizational culture develops a comprehensive counseling model that integrates these structural barriers to enable counselors amass the necessary capabilities to prepare students for college. The comprehensive model also ensures that school counselors partner with parents, administrators and teachers to share college information necessary to prepare students for college.
- Testing and Curriculum
Undertaking a curriculum that prepares a student for college work and taking the necessary standardized tests required for application to college such as the ACT, SAT and SAT subject tests are two of the most critical steps for college readiness. Often times, students, particularly those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, are unable to pass these stages (Choy, Horn, Nunez and Chen, 2000; Adelman, 1999). Particularly, algebra serves as a safeguard of sorts, preparing students for advanced course work and vital tests. In that respect, the middle-school grades, where students begin algebra, are critical in that regard (Oakes, 1990; Carnegie Corporation, 1989). Despite the well-known importance of curriculum and testing to college readiness, a good number of students complete high school without having done the courses or examinations necessary to prepare them for college. For instance, the California Postsecondary Education Commission (2001) reported that only 36% of high school graduates of the year 1999 completed the whole college preparatory curricula. A good organizational culture provides students with a broad access for test-taking by providing financial aids and other forms of support to students.
- Faculty Involvement
As has been discussed before, school counselors have a lot of responsibilities due to overwhelming caseloads that leaves them with inadequate time to dedicate to college counseling (McDonough & Perez, 1998; Monson & Brown, 1985; Lombana, 1985; Chapman & De Masi, 1985). In the same context, classroom teachers are interacting with the students for up to 35 hours every week (Sparks, 1994; NCES, 1997). In that light, it is the duty of the faculty to share in the responsibility that will ensure students are effectively prepared for college. Indeed, researchers have reinforced the fact that teachers play a critical role in shaping students’ decisions about college and in their preparation for their future education (McDonough, 2002). Some of the ways through which faculty involvement may be done include developing appropriate college talk, rigorous curriculum and testing programs, and clear expectations. These three factors are crucial in the role of teachers for creation of organizational culture.
- Family involvement
Apart from faculty members, family members also form an important aspect of the support system that is involved in college readiness. Several studies have highlighted that family involvement in a student’s education life contributes significantly to their success (U.S. Department of Education, 1986; Rich, 1985; Walberg, 1984; Moles, 1987; Henderson, 1987) and that the most powerful indicator of college aspirations is family or parental support and encouragement (McDonough, 1999; Hossler, Schmit and Vesper, 1999). Indeed, a national study revealed that the probability of children whose parents regularly discussed college-related issues to enroll to college was twice that of students whose parents rarely discussed about college with them (Horn and Chen, 1998). Studies have shown that most parents, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, think higher education is extremely important for children (Immerwahr and Foleno, 2000). Similarly, empirical evidence has shown that many parents, particularly those who do not have a college education, are unfamiliar with essential information regarding college preparation process (Perez, 1999; Padron, 1992; McDonough, 1999; Delgado-Gaitan, 1990). Particularly, these parents lack access to basic information regarding different kinds of colleges and their admission requirements as well as information on standardized college entrance examinations and financial support their children may benefit from (Chapleau, 2000). This support would be best achieved by partnering with schools. A good organizational culture is therefore able to engage family members in a partnership program towards ensuring college readiness.
- College Partnerships
Educators and policy makers, both from K-12 and higher education are now emphasizing on the importance of engaging colleges as partners in a bid to elevate student achievement, students’ aspirations and their enrollment in college (Harkavy, 1999; Haycock, 1997; Feldman, 1999). Such partnerships may be in many forms and are aimed at increasing students’ awareness of and readiness for a wide range of postsecondary opportunities. For instance, forming effective links between colleges and universities and middle and high schools can help build a positive college culture by providing college-related activities including field trips to college fairs and college campuses, academic enrichment programs, and financial support for taking standardized tests. These close connections will offer students with a greater sense of college life and enhance their ability of visualizing themselves in college which would increase their college readiness.
According to Andy Hargreaves (1994), even though collaboration is often not part of a large scale reform effort, curriculum reform, school improvement, teacher and leadership development have all be enumerated as being dependent on the existence of positive collegial relationships in order for them to be successful. Hargreaves explains the important components of collaboration, all which indicate that collaboration is a crucial part of school culture. He particularly suggests that collaborative working relations should emerge voluntarily and spontaneously among the school workers towards a common objective. Collaborations should be pervasive and unpredictable rather than happening in structured ways and at scheduled intervals. For certainty, they must be incorporated in the school culture. Research has shown that this kind of collaboration across all school levels yields significant advantages for the students (Ryan, 2002). It has been indicated that transition programs that meet the needs of students, school staff, and parents can produce a positive impact on achievement and retention during high school duration (Smith, 1997). Additionally, empirical evidence suggests that programs dealing with the transition of students from middle-school to high school and that emphasize on curricular connections of the two sectors or than encourage students to prepare for educational and career opportunities are able to help students sustain appropriate level of achievement in important college preparatory courses (Visher, Lauen, Merola and Medrich, 1998; Rice, 1997; Nielson-Andrew et al., 1997).
College knowledge is an important aspect of college readiness. College knowledge refers to the information usually possessed by those that have attended college and that are versed in how to navigate the administrative processes, college entrance exams, skills, and abilities needed to engage with faculty and students, standard college funding, and type of high school courses needed to qualify for college (Soria & Stebleton, 2012; Castellanos, Gloria, Herrera, Kanagui-Munoz, & Flores, 2013). It refers to the situation skills and awareness and is defined as the information required for the successful application to a college, getting the required financial help and understanding the operation of the college as a culture and system following matriculation. Radcliffe and Bos (2013) further define college knowledge and the privileged information that necessitates the comprehension of the way in which college operates as a culture and system. College knowledge has numerous dimensions including formal and informal information which is important for eligibility for admission, selecting the right institution for post secondary education, gaining admission and financial aid.
It has been stated that Latino parents are often unenlightened of the ways to assist their children in navigating through the educational system. This lack of knowledge has influence over the ability of parents to assist their children academically and with the procurement of financial aid (Castellanos, et al., 2013). Students who have college knowledge have an understanding of the admission criteria for instance the requirements for high school course achievement, the knowledge of how to complete applications, the understanding that different colleges posses different missions, and the ability to state the estimated cost of tuition and the probability of financial aid from different types of colleges attended and the required tests for admissions and their deadlines (Conley, 2008). These steps have posed a historical challenge for minority and low income groups and those whose parents never attended college (Edmunds, 2012). Moreover, the behaviors considered to be non-academic for instance the capability of having successful interactions with peers and professors is also of benefit (Edmunds, 2012).
There is an inequitable distribution of college knowledge in the society and the lack of college knowledge leads to a frustration and discouragement of numerous students, especially those who are the first child to attend college. Such students either miss one of the deadlines or overlook the potential of finding financial aid and some do not make any applications. The majority of the first generation students many times struggle towards becoming successful participants within the campus, are often frustrated, alienated and sometimes feel humiliated during their first year and as such may suddenly leave college.
There is an improvement in college success for the students who have the skills and knowledge which gives them the ability to interact with different cross-sections of peers and academicians. Such skills include the capability of collaborating and working in teams, the knowhow of the norms of the academic culture in the institution, and the knowledge of the manner in which the student ought to interact with their administrators, professors and the others within that environment. Additional skills include the capability to feel comfortable around persons from varied cultures and backgrounds, the capability of demonstrating leadership skills and taking advantage of the resources for personal support that are available within the campuses.
College knowledge has an impact on the behavior of individuals for instance their probability of being enrolled in college (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012). The understanding of the college, its selection and how to pay fees are regarded as complex ideas. The development of the knowledge on how to go through the complex pathway to college is a challenge for the students having no history of higher education. Similar to the academic knowledge, the knowledge of higher education engages a hierarchy of skills, information, and the support needed. Its development is especially of importance because the traditional process of gaining college admission is sensitive to time and preparing for the same starts at the eighth grade when the student decide to enroll in preparatory coursework (Ritchhart, 2002).
Several studies have investigated the comprehension of the cost of college, the procedures for applying for aid and the availability of financial aid by the family and the student. The variation in the individual college knowledge levels has the ability to result in different college trajectories. Roderick, Nagaoka, Coca, and Moeller (2008) conducted a study among the seniors in Chicago Public School and found that aid predicted the enrollment in a four year college. In the same way, an analysis using he data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) established that an increased number of black and Latino students who were regarded to be educationally and economically disadvantaged regarding financial aid but had information regarding the possibility of financial aid had a higher likelihood of taking steps towards enrolling in college in comparison with their qualified counterparts (Arnold, Lu and Armstrong, 2012).
The concept of college knowledge differs with the parental experience and the socioeconomic status. A study conducted among the high school students in Boston established that 50 percent of the seniors had applied for the college of their first choice by the fall of their year of completion, in comparison with 91 percent of the students in the suburban schools who were considered to be wealthier (Avery and Kane, 2004). The authors further suggest that the actions taken by the wealthier students reflected a higher social and cultural level of capital as their parent were assumed to have a college education and as such deeply familiar with the process of selection and admission. Contrary to this scenario, the students who are first to attend college together with their families do not have the familiarity with the working of a college or the means through which they can finance their education. The authors support these arguments by mentioning that the Latino students have lesser college knowledge compared to the Asian or white students.
Akin to college knowledge in determining college readiness is the concept of college counseling which can be crucial to student gaining a sufficient knowledge of the college they desire to be, or are eventually enrolled in. College counseling is defined as a developmental process which makes young people involved in the development of post secondary aspirations as well as expectations through the students’ increased awareness of their abilities and interest and through receiving the support and the information required for sufficient college success and access. Numerous terms have been employed in describing the college counseling process including college admissions counseling, college counseling, as well as college readiness counseling (Savitz-Romer, 2012). The term “college readiness counseling” is more inclusive because it suggests that readiness is inclusive of the preparation for success following matriculation.
College readiness counseling is integrated in the process of career development, which the role of counselors in their support of the personal, career and academic development. Reference denotes that the time taken by school counselors is approximately 25-50 percent in the postsecondary admissions counseling (Savitz-Romer, 2012).
The effectiveness of college readiness counseling needs a reinforced base in counseling which occurs through a graduate counseling course and training on the job. It includes the general knowledge of the history of college education, and the persistence and barriers to college enrolment. Nevertheless, the graduate programs that address counselor education many times do not include courses in college readiness counseling, but instead are focused towards issues for instance vocational development, clinical training and psychological testing (Savitz-Romer, 2012).
In addition to the lack of this specific and important skill, increased levels of inequity in the attainment of post secondary degrees and the increasing attention towards the significance of attaining a college degree have continued to expose the quality of the counseling programs in high schools aimed at increasing college readiness. This is especially for the programs targeted at students who are the first to attend college in their families, come from poor backgrounds or the minority groups that are underrepresented (Savitz-Romer, 2012).
There are serious inequities in the college readiness of educational systems which many times lead to the differential access to college knowledge. The college outcomes of persons from urban communities have been regarded as small in comparison to the students that come from high or middle income societies. In such high income communities, the students can get counseling from numerous networks including the private counselors, peers and family members with a college experience, school counselors who are less burdened, and the devoted college counselors.
Schools that experience high levels of inequity have been deemed to have less sufficient counseling and are located areas which serve students who are first generation attendees and of color. Reference for instance states that students from urban schools do not have information on the basic college planning; many times start planning to attend college too late, and therefore do not take the required courses to pursue a specific program (Savitz-Romer, 2012). Moreover, reference asserts this by stating that students who attend schools in urban areas many times do not have college knowledge, have low levels of college aspirations resulting from perceived barriers, and many times lack the social networks to help with planning.
Some studies have also established that despite having very high aspirations, the urban students find the planning process apathetic and therefore end up making the college choices with little assistance and in a haphazard manner (Savitz-Romer, 2012). The explanation to this may come from the research which suggest hopelessness and particularly concerning the future identity of the students as one of the common factors among minority youth from low income backgrounds. The factors ultimately become an obstacle to the decision making and the planning behaviors (Savitz-Romer, 2012).
Reference indicates that urban students have a heavy reliance on their counselors at school support and college counseling particularly because of their limited access to college networks and knowledge (Holland and Farmer-Hinton, 2009). Counselors in high schools are significant as social capital in the times when the students are involved in college counseling, and especially when the counselors set very high educational expectations, make the students more involved in planning or thinking of their future and share the information and resources required in gaining access to the various institutions (Savitz-Romer, 2012).This means that the school counselors that work in the urban communities have a unique position towards the promotion of educational equity by making sure that their students can access readiness counseling.
Some researchers however cite the school counselors as being the barrier to college readiness (Savitz-Romer, 2012). Reference for instance states that poor readiness counseling and especially in the low schools is a practical level of the school counselors at the center of the problem. More particularly, the author mentions issues for instance few resources for college planning, a high ratio of students to the counselors and the increased emphasis on the administrative duties. Other studies however show that the major problem is the over-reliance of the students of color from low income families and those who are the first college attendees on their school counselors. Also, the issue has been blamed on the alignment of the graduate counseling programs and the school counselors’ career expectations (Savitz-Romer, 2012).
In Chapter 2 a variety of literature and the issues that function as obstacles or enhancers to college readiness at the high school level were discussed. The use of a qualitative method that will focus on information that cannot be easily observed or measured using numerical methods involves an interpretive and naturalistic approach to the world (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). Using a qualitative method to explore the obstacles and enhancers to college readiness the high school level should produce a unique and authentic study.
The review of the literature revealed that studies that address what specific academic knowledge is necessary to address the obstacles and enablers to college readiness by first year college students (Conley & French, 2014; Soria & Stebleton, 2012). It also revealed that a gap exists in knowledge as it concerns the qualitative aspects of college readiness at the high school level.
The problem that was being investigated in this research study was seeking to understand the obstacles and enhancers to college readiness of students in U.S. high schools and how the same can be eliminated to improve college readiness for all students. A large school in West Texas was chosen for purposes of this study. This chapter provides an outline on the manner in which this research study was conducted, beginning from the first stages of ideation to data analysis and the results derived from the study and discussion. The main components discussed in this part include the research design adopted, the participants and settings, instrumentation and data collection materials, and other procedures used to complete the study.
A qualitative exploratory approach was used to study college readiness and the obstacles and enhancers of college readiness as it relates to a west Texas high school in the US. A qualitative study research design uses exploration, observation, description and collection of nonnumeric data to answer a research question (Christensen, Johnson, and Turner, 2011). A qualitative study is particularly well suited to the social aspects of behavior, organizational culture and processes of college readiness at the high school level as these are situational, dynamic, social, contextual, and personal (Christensen, et al., 2011). The purpose of an exploratory study is to explore the core facts, circumstances, and concerns of a particular situation or phenomenon (Neuman, 2011). An exploratory study is appropriate when there are high levels of uncertainty and ignorance about a subject; it is also appropriate when the problem is not very well understood (van Wyk, 2011).
The purpose of this study was to examine the obstacles and enablers influencing college readiness from social, contextual, and situational viewpoints in a large west Texas high school. A qualitative research design was found to be appropriate as it would permits an organized study of the apparent obstacles and enablers described by a purposive sample of the teachers who have followed curricula intended to produce successful educational outcomes congruent with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). TEKS address what high school students in Texas should know and what they should be able to do (Texas Education Agency, 2012a). A qualitative and exploratory approach to research explores information that by its nature would be difficult to perceive or measure using numerical methods (Neuman, 2011).
The objective for this exploratory study might be achieved through the use of a qualitative method. The primary goal for this study was to explore the obstacles and enhancers for college readiness in a west Texas high school. Oliver (2011) stated “that the type of qualitative research and its attendant methods should be appropriate for the purpose of the study” (p. 1). This is important for the general alignment of the research as it relates to formulating interview questions, identifying sources of data, collecting and analyzing data, and finally presenting the findings (Oliver, 2011).
The chosen research methodology design also took into consideration the social aspects of the research question. An exploratory research design was chosen for this study because it could shed light on the qualitative aspects of college readiness for high school students. A qualitative method is important because as Pathak, Jena, and Kalra (2013) points out, “Qualitative method [sic] is used to understand people’s beliefs, experiences, attitudes, behavior, and interactions. Qualitative research is now recognized for its ability to add a new dimension to interventional studies which cannot be obtained through measurement of variables alone” (p. 192).
Carnevale and Strohl (2012) suggested that a third of those who do not complete college are due to a lack of college readiness. In the United States, there has been a focus to improve academic outcomes in high schools for the last three decades (Ramsey-White, 2012). In addition, to this Goree (2013) posited that students must now compete in a global market. All of these statements underline the importance of preparing high school students who are college ready. The central research question that the study sought to answer was: What are the social, contextual, and situational obstacles and enablers that impact college readiness in a Texas high school? The sub-research questions which guided this exploratory qualitative study were:
- Based on west Texas high school teacher’s perceptions, what are the non-academic obstacles of lack of college readiness?
- Based on west Texas high school teacher’s perceptions, what are the non-academic enhancers of lack of college readiness?
- Based on west Texas high school teacher’s perceptions, how might promoting these non-academic enhancers improve high school student’s college readiness?
- Based on west Texas high school teacher’s perception, how can teachers diminish or remove these non-academic obstacles?
The participants for the study were chosen from the faculty of a large urban comprehensive west Texas high school. The high school subject of the study has 136 teachers. Sixteen faculty members were selected to participate in the study. Two of these were held in reserve as replacements should any decide to withdraw from the study for whatever reason. Another Two of the sixteen participants were asked to participate in a pilot study. Thus the sample used for the main study was 14 participants. A sample of 14 was seen as appropriate for the study to be organized into two focus groups. According to McLeod (1999), the standards maximum sample number of a focus group should be eight people. Thus two focus groups of 7 participants each was found ideal for the study. Faculty members at the study high school were invited to participate through mails sent to their campus mail boxes.
Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2007) suggested that in general a sample size in qualitative research should be big enough to ensure that saturation is more easily reached. Onwuegbuzie and Leech also stated that the number of contacts with each participant and the length of each contact is an important consideration in order to reach saturation. Higginbottom (2004) stated the type of sampling used in a qualitative research is determined by the methodology selected and the topic that is being studied, not by the need to create generalizable findings. Higginbottom continued to state that the study sample is identified at the beginning of the study and again during the emergent research design and that this is driven not by the need to ensure generalisability but instead by the desire to completely investigate the topic of the study. Onwuegbuzie and Leech said that when conducting sampling and the goal is not to generalize to obtain insights into a phenomenon, then the scholar purposefully chooses individuals or groups that maximize the understanding of the phenomenon.
A purposive sampling method was used to select the study participants. The principal reason for choosing to do a purposive sampling as suggested by Nicholls (2008) is to select study participants who can offer meaningful insights into the qualitative aspects of college readiness and who are willing and able to speak candidly about their experiences.
Participants in the study were all asked to sign a hard copy informed consent prior to their participation in the study. The informed consent form provided a way for the participants in the study to acknowledge that they understand the nature of the study, possible risks, and the manner in which personal information they supply will be kept confidential. The signature of the participants in the signed consent form showed the participants are over the age of 18, are not members of a protected group, and are voluntarily participating in the study.
Teacher participants in the study were selected from the official roster of faculty teaching in the 2015/2016 academic school year. All data collected will be maintained in the researchers password protected and encrypted external hard drive and will be maintained for a minimum of three years following the study as per the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines. Prior to the study, participants were informed that any data supplied by them for purposes of the study shall not be disclosed to any third parties and shall solely be used for purposes of this research only.
This dissertation study was conducted at a large comprehensive public high school in a large west Texas city with a populations estimated to be 833, 500. The most recent demographics of students attending this school in 2014/2015 school year included a population of 2600 students. The student populations is 9 African-American, 46 Anglo, N/A Asian, 2451Hispanic, 13 American Indian or Alaska Native, N/A Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific islander (Texas Education Agency, 2012b).
The instrumentation used to do the field work in the dissertation study was a semi-structured open-ended interview. Data collection from the interviews ensured that the researcher was able to identify emerging themes and was continued from the sampling population until informational redundancy is reached. Analysis and interpretations of the emerging themes was aimed at allowing the interpretation of organizational influence, habits of the mind, and behavior patterns conducive to college readiness. The researcher also served as an instrument in conducting the semi-structured interviews and observing the qualitative aspects of college readiness, habits of mind, college knowledge, and organizational influence.
Prior to any data collection for this doctoral study, application for approval from the University of Phoenix Institutional Review Board (IRB) was sought. Additionally, approval doing the doctoral study and use of the high school buildings for conducting interviews was also sought from the School District of which the high school subject of the study is a member. Finally, after receiving consent from the IRB and school district to do the study the population subjects of the study were contacted and an email inviting them to participate in the study was sent to them. A consent form with full disclosure of the subject of the study, possible adverse effects of participating – none known at the time of the study – and an explicit statement expressing no consequences from withdrawing from the study at any time were attached to the invitation email. Participants were first organized into two focus groups for orientation and then individual interviews were conducted by the research team using open-ended questions. The research team was properly guided on the interview format and questions to be asked. Questions that were asked related to college readiness and obstacles and enhancers relating to college readiness in terms of habits of mind, college knowledge and organizational culture of campus. A typical interview session was expected to last for about 48 minutes but most times it was extended. Interviewees were allowed to ask any questions and clarify their positions during the interview. The responses were recorded using an audio device and then compiled into a report after the interview sessions. The interviewers also made their own personal notes during the interview sessions.
Before conducting the main research study, a pilot study was conducted with several goals in mind. First, to help pretest the interview questions, possible procedural and syntax problems; Second, to ensure the appropriateness of the open-ended interview questions, third to improve the credibility of the study and to provide a verification of the time spent in the study interview questions, and finally to help improve the validity of the study. For the pilot study, two participants meeting the criteria of the main sample were used for the test. After the pilot study, their feedback on the appropriateness and simplicity of the interview questions, method of study and other related observations was sought to inform any possible areas of improvement. A positive feedback was obtained which paved way for the main study.
Data analysis was done through transcription and coding using the constant comparative analysis approach (Glaser, 1976). In this approach, the data obtained was first analyzed and coded to generate conceptual categories relating to teachers’ perceptions of college readiness of students. As collection of the responses from the 14 high school teachers from a large suburban school district commenced data transcription and coding also commenced. The second step involved analyzing each interviewer’s text to assess how well the generated conceptual categories fit with each teacher’s description of the topic questions. After that, a through screening of the data was performed to evaluate how centrally each category described an individual participant’s expectations. The findings and conclusions from this exploratory qualitative study may encourage further investigation into the obstacles and enhancers of high school students’ college readiness.
All researchers, both those that subscribe to the quantitative as well as the qualitative approaches to research aspire to establish the credibility of their research (Golafshani, 2003). Cope (2014) stated “Credibility refers to the truth of the data or the participant views and the interpretation and representation of them by the researcher” (p. 89). To more easily attain credibility, Oliver (2011), suggested that consistency in the approach to the research, including how the data is presented and analyzed, provides credibility to the study and that method, findings, and discussion of the research can be trusted. Credibility for this study was maintained by persistent observation and member checks. This was done by compiling a report of the interview data and sending it to the interviewees for review, confirmation and revision.
Confirmability refers to researchers’ ability to establish that the data presented reflects the participants’ replies and not the researcher’s viewpoints (Cope, 2014). To demonstrate confirmability, Cope suggests that the researcher should use rich thick descriptions that allow the reader to understand that the conclusions and interpretations were obtained directly from the data. Confirmability and dependability of findings for this study was established by the use of data triangulation and conducting an enquiry audit. The enquiry audit constituted of a person outside the research team, an expert professional school counselor, who reviewed our analysis process and the resulting themes to make sure that conceptual decisions were true to data and were not affected by researcher bias or preconceived notions (Janesick, 2000). This ensures that the findings presented here are as much as possible the true account of teachers’ perspectives on the study topic and should be viewed as emergent and tentative as outlined in Glasier (1976).
Triangulation of data was achieved through the review and analysis by each members of the research team. Each member of the team analyzed and listed to each interview recording and developed emergent themes independently. The members then came together to reach a consensus on the main themes to be adopted and how these should be communicated to the readership.
Transferability is described as findings that can be applied in other settings (Cope, 2014). Oliver (2011) stated that the readers must have sufficient information about the research subjects and the settings of the study in order to analyze if the results of the study are applicable in their own settings. For this study, transferability of the research findings to other settings are solely left for the determination of the reader. The rich description afforded by themes describing teachers’ perspectives on college readiness, however, enable readers to determine the applicability and relevance of the findings of this study to individual settings.
In the literature review section, the issue of low college readiness in most students completing high school in the U.S. was already discussed. It was also mentioned that receiving a high school diploma is not in itself an indicators of college readiness (Porter and Polikoff, 2012; Hull and Seeley, 2010; Conley, 2007; Achieve, Inc., 2004). From this study, almost all teachers interviewed remarked that students are generally unprepared for demands and expectations of college education. One of the reasons indicators highlighted to show that students were not college ready was the unrealistic expectations they have on their academic skills and abilities they possess and how these may interplay with their major academic and career goals. One participant was of the opinion that this can be explained by the ability of students to fail their courses or exams in high school without being able to generate a higher level of accountability on the part of the students as he stated as follows:
I have seen transcripts where a student in 12th grade somehow managed to attain a series of grades of 65s for courses required for one to graduate, this means that the student basically attained a fail, a fail, a fail, and a pass. Again, students today barely pass in key academic subjects that are required for one to graduate. So, what does that teach them? It teaches them that in high school one can fail classes as many times as possible as long as they eventually pass these courses, right? And this kind of mentality will totally not help them achieve in college because it only rewards passive persistence but does not allow active planning in any manner, shape or form.
Another participant repeated these similar sentiments explaining that the reason why students experience problems in college is because they fail to make the necessary adjustments and do not access the necessary resources in a timely manner to ensure they are on a successful academic trajectory. Another participant of similar opinions stated that in high school a “D” grade is a pass but students fail to realize that this same grade could cause one to be placed on probation in college, or the fact that with such a grade, a student is no longer at the top of the class as they may have been in high school. Several teachers felt that students in high school are not taught to be responsible due to the fact that there are fewer deadlines placed on them and less consequences for their actions. As such, students do not learn the concept of self-management during their transition from dependent learners in high school to independent learners in college.
Other characteristics of unpreparedness noted by the participants include poor study skills and study habits, a lack of motivation, purpose and behavior change, poor language and reading comprehension skills, and lack of communication etiquette and proper engagement with professors. Another teacher remarked that though students participate in college readiness programs provided in high schools, these programs may be successful in enhancing motivation for attending college but they do not manage to prepare students for college-level education.
Another issue regarding college preparedness was the fact that student from urban minority groups and those coming from low income status backgrounds are largely lacking in college readiness. This group of student was found to be experiencing much greater difficulty in transitioning to college due to higher levels of unpreparedness, lack of familiarity with textbooks and computer skills, different educational experiences and discrepancies in their placement scores and high school averages. In addition, participants stated that such students are usually financially challenged coming from financially challenged districts. He stated that:
Students from all urban city school districts are currently experiencing great difficulties. The graduation rate for minority students in urban school districts, especially makes, is about 25 per cent, i.e. one out of every four students. Majority of them fail to meet the required eligibility criteria for college. So that means that students coming from urban school district, if they do not have a strong foundation or a very strong school, will have serious issues and concerns in college.
This participant also lamented that most students coming from minority groups are likely not to make it to college due to the level of their academic skills and preparation. As such, the proportion of minority students who are unprepared for college is much higher compared to other population groups. So what are some of the enhancers and obstacles to college readiness?
Despite the fact that most students lack college readiness, the teachers interviewed were able to highlight some of the factors that help improve college readiness among students. These include: persistence, self-reliance, resilience, self-advocacy, determination, drive and ambition. These were some of the positive features frequently mentioned by participants that would help students become more prepared for college education and which will enable them to achieve in their academics. They explained that some of the factors that help students become more college prepared include their ability to adjust in the difficult transition to college, being able to overcome obstacles, and handling their business in a greater degree than they would naturally do to in high school. One teacher stated that a good number of students know exactly what they want to achieve in life and have the skills for it but may not realize their dreams because they lack someone to draw it out for them. Such students, when they are provided with the necessary support and resources are able to endure at a higher level than their counterparts.
In regard to first generation students, some of the factors that improve their college readiness include their potential to be highly motivated, driven, more cognizant of the fact that being able to attend college is a unique opportunity, being serious about their goals, less reliant on parents, and being motivated to give back to family.
The participants also identified some of the obstacles identified as affecting students’ college readiness by negatively affecting their unique experiences of college and their college retention rate. In most cases, students are academically dismissed from college or they voluntarily abandon school because of poor grades or are unable to meet the academic standing requirements of the program they are pursuing. Most often times, students from high school fail to meet the necessary criteria for admission to college. One of the main reasons students are unable to meet the necessary criteria for admission is lack of knowledge or understanding on the academic requirements placed on them. Apart from academic reasons, financial aspects are also great obstacles for students, especially those coming from low income status. For instance, unavailability of information on sources of financial aid funding incapacitates students from obtaining the necessary academic resources such as student fees, books, computers, etc. Such students may lack housing and may not afford tuition fee. Without proper support and advice from counselors, students may not understand the amount of loans they can successfully access for their undergraduate studies. Other students may not know how to manage the available limited funds and they end up overspending and exhausting their financial sources.
Apart from finances, personal qualities and impressions held by a student may interfere with their academic success. Some of the qualities identified by participants as affecting college readiness include: lack of motivation, unrealistic expectations, and poor attitude. Other obstacles identified include family related concerns such as domestic violence, unsupportive parents, or even parenthood. Issues relating to physical health and well being, mental health and well being in addition to socio-emotional issues were identified as impacting on academic success and college readiness. Other obstacles identified, particularly for first generation students include the fact that these students may lack support from family members who may not identify with college experience, being derailed by family problems and demands that absent them from school, or being called upon to provide long-term support to family thus leaving school. Besides, even those who may be eligible to join college may be sucked back into the neighborhood environment, fear of being ostracized by peers and family members and friends, and inability to balance between different demands of home and school.
Asked how schools can enhance and improve students’ college readiness and remove the prevailing obstacles, participants stated that there is a lot to be done at the high school level. However, it was largely agreed that college preparation should begin at least in 7th grade, that is, if not in kindergarten. It was also the opinion of the participants that college preparation should be integrated in the school curriculum. Participants also felt that a more active role should be played by high school counselors in assessing the skills, strengths, interests, and weaknesses of students. Further, student assessment should be able to explore for all postsecondary options available to a student who may not be eligible for college to allow them to pursue other pathways of postsecondary education, for example joining a community college or a vocational program.
Other suggestions offered for improving college readiness include: developing realistic academic as well as career goals; increased understanding of the requirements needed to succeed in college; proper time management, study, and communication skills; ability to adapt and adjust quickly; exposure to real world knowledge and leadership activities; mandatory college preparation meetings, speeches, and college visits to promote excitement and interest; discussions on critical thinking, decision-making, responsibility, and choices; and engaging in more challenging course loads.
In regard to teacher’s perceptions concerning the organizational culture of a school and its role in ensuring student’s college readiness, the following themes emerged from the study:
- Need for Communication and Collaboration
This theme of need for communication, collaboration and team work among teacher, counselors, administrators, and other faculty members, emerged most frequently. Most of the teachers interviewed discussed about the importance of maintaining good communication and working together as a team for all concerned. Quite a number of the participants mentioned the need for the school to undertake developmental, preventive and proactive approach to guidance and counseling services for students in order to ensure their college readiness. Participants believed that establishing and maintaining a strong relationship between teachers, administrators and counselors was essential for the effectiveness of a school to produce college readiness. Making personal connections with each other was seen as extremely important. In addition, working as a team through consultation with other staff members rather than acting unilaterally was seen as critical for creating an effective organizational culture. As one of the participants stated, “Collaboration and teamwork are crucial. The staff as a whole should be involved with students and collaboration among all staff members is essential.” Building positive relationships with other teachers and understanding their individual perspectives was also seen as important. One teacher stated that “Staff members should invest time in creating a rapport with the whole faculty, learn more about other teachers’ perspectives, and be a vital part of the entire school team.”
The importance of teachers and counselors working together to help students was also highlighted. This collaboration would be important as it would ensure that teachers would identify issues affecting students and communicate this information to counselors who would then use it to structure their counseling activities, including creation of intervention programs in classrooms. A number of the participants mentioned the need for counselors to support classroom instruction and environment teachers’ validation. Others suggested establishing team meetings between all staff members in order to maintain open and effective lines of communication.
- Acknowledging the importance of direct services to students
A second major theme that emerged from the study was the importance of schools valuing and increasing the level of both classroom guidance sessions and small-group counseling. A significant number of the teachers interviewed highlighted the importance of having small-group student counseling while others felt large-group guidance programs were crucial to enhancing student college readiness. Specifically, small-group guidance services were seen as important to help students develop life skills, peer facilitation, peer mediation, social relationships, and methods of resolving family issues, all which are known to affect academic performance. Participating teachers felt that guidance and counseling services in their classrooms addressing issues of problem solving and decision-making, accepting of differences, dealing with aggression, establishing a positive learning environment, and building character education, would be highly effective in helping improve college readiness for their students. They also felt that schools, through teachers and counselors who are in direct contact with students, are at the forefront in shaping educational planning of students in preparation for college.
Apart from the counseling offered in groups, participants were of the opinion that schools should ensure particular attention is had to individual needs of every student. Schools, especially teachers and counselors, should be aware of situations facing students and respond to these situations and other crisis in a timely manner. A culture that encourage following up with students that do not achieve up to expectations should be promoted. It was felt that teachers and counselors should create time for individual work with their students.
- Accessibility, visibility and school-wide involvement of teachers and faculty members
The third major theme emerging from the study was the reachability of teachers across all levels of school and their willingness to ensure school-wide involvement rather than just associating with a select group of students. As one of the participants stated, “Every teacher should be a part of the school team and ensure they are warm and approachable. Accessibility and visibility with students is very important. One should not be isolated.”
- Family involvement and knowledge of special backgrounds of students
Participants also felt that schools should find a way of bridging the gap between schools and home and gather information that would help teachers understand any family issues that may be affecting the performance of students. A good number of participants stated that teachers should be able to know some of the special needs of their students. Being in Texas, most of the teachers interviewed have had experience teaching students of diverse population groups of multicultural backgrounds and students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Others talked of interacting with students using English as their second language and others discussed about children with special education needs. Some teachers felt that the school should be more of a referral agent as well as broker of resources. To this extent, they were of the opinion that schools should be able to direct students with special needs to sources of resources and make referrals where necessary. Another aspect that came up in this regard is the ability of schools to work with students and family members directly in a bid to establish the special needs of students and respond accordingly.
Generally, the results of this study indicated that majority of students are largely unprepared for postsecondary educational demands in terms of sets of skills and cognitive abilities required to embark on a successful academic path. In order to be college ready, students need to refine their skills, be able to adapt quickly to college culture, and acquire an awareness of the academic, behavioral, and cognitive expectations placed on them. They should also be able to connect socially with counselors, peers, and the faculty for effective transition to postsecondary education.
According to Tinto (1993), students transitioning to college are more likely to experience levels of adjustment, difficulty, incongruence, and isolation that affect their persistence and college readiness. As such, students should be provided with sufficient guidance and support before and after being introduced to the college environment. Some of the experiences skills that students should be taught include study skills, self-efficacy and time management skills, as well as thorough understanding of expectations and responsibilities placed on them by college-level education. Therefore, there is need for more interventions, especially at high school level, and schools should ensure that active partnerships are developed between high schools and colleges. In addition, in order to increase the college reality for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, there is a need to increase resources and awareness in regard to barriers to college.
One of the main themes that arose more frequently from this regard was the need for collaboration, communication and teamwork among all faculty members of the school, especially between teachers and counselors. This theme is in line with the main philosophy of the National Model (ASCA, 2003) and the ASCA National Standards according to Campbell and Dahir (1997), especially on the component of service delivery. According to Bowers, Hatch and Schwallie-Giddis (2001), “counselors need the inner strength to step up to work with teachers to improve student achievement and to demonstrate that what they do is connected to student learning” (p. 18). Thus clearly, literature, the national standards and even national legislation (the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) requires all federally funded programs to be directly connected and accountable for student learning and improvement) all support the principle of collaboration and teamwork between teachers and counselors.
The main role of teachers and counselors in preparing students to become college ready was seen as helping them achieve their best academically, developing high aspirations, and maintaining a positive perception of the classroom environment. In addition, it was felt that teachers and schools should be able to identify special needs of students and address them in a timely manner to ensure a student’s academic performance is not affected by concerns relating to family issues, financial problems, and cultural and social backgrounds. This can only achieved through active involvement of parents and partnering with family members. Students coming from low-income backgrounds should be adequately guided and supported on available sources of funding and resources.
This chapter provides a detailed description of how the research study was conducted and the methodology, procedure, tools and instrumentations used to conduct the study was explained. The result and findings of the study were provided and discussed. Generally, it was seen that students are largely lacking in college readiness. From this study, it was clear that teachers believe their roles are becoming more and more complex with an ever increasing diversity in students’ backgrounds and that the expectations placed on them in regard to meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of their students are becoming more difficult. Most teachers feel that students in today’s schools lack the same respect for authority as that existing in conventional schools and that discipline has become a major issue both in the classroom setting and the whole school in general. Teachers also felt that factors affecting students are numerous and diverse ranging from family-related issues, motivation, completing homework, and generally being prepared to learn. The issue of social media and increased internet use was also found to be a great concern in distracting students from academic life. Participants therefore recommended that great assistance be provided by administrators and counselors as well as family members.
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Appendix A: Population in El Paso city of Texas
Appendix B: Population of Hispanics in El Paso city of Texas
Appendix C: Facts about El Paso city of Texas
Appendix D: Other Demographics of El Paso city of Texas
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OPTIONAL
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