Practices and Programs That Prepare Students for College Graduation

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1 The SEED Foundation Practices and Programs That Prepare Students for College Graduation October 2010 This report was prepared by FSG Social Impact Advisors, a nonprofit consulting firm dedicated to helping for profit and nonprofit enterprises increase social impact by developing strategies, tailoring operations, and measuring results.

2 Introduction Background and Project Overview The SEED Foundation (SEED) developed a public boarding school model to prepare lowincome, first-generation college students in grades 6-12 for success in college. SEED currently has schools in Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD that have been highly successful, with student outcome rates that are multiples higher than those for their urban peers, including 92% high school graduation rate, 97% college acceptance rate, and 95% college matriculation rate. Underlying this success is a comprehensive boarding school program that includes 24-hour academic and social supports, focused academic remediation in the early grades with a more rigorous curriculum in high school, a college counseling program, school-wide use of data, and a college transition and support program with advisors and resources to help graduates navigate their college years. Despite SEED s tremendous success in helping its students to access higher education, SEED wants to continue to find ways to improve the likelihood that their students also complete their postsecondary degree. As SEED prepares for further growth and expansion, they engaged FSG to conduct research to help identify the highest impact and most cost effective strategies to refine SEED s program and further drive students to not only access but to complete college. In collaboration with SEED staff, FSG worked to isolate which strategies will have the greatest impact on increasing college graduation rates for SEED students, thus helping determine where SEED should focus resources going forward. Methodology Through secondary research and relying on SEED s 12 years of experience, we identified four levers to focus on as high-impact strategies or programs for SEED including: Academic Rigor and Curriculum, College Matching, Social and Non-Cognitive Skills, and Financial Aid and Scholarships. SEED s unique boarding school environment also played a role in the selection of these four levers as primary areas for additional focus. For example, SEED s student life curriculum provides additional staff, time and flexibility for SEED to implement these levers in ways that traditional day schools cannot. FSG and SEED Staff conducted 20 interviews over two months with experts and practitioners in the field to validate these levers as the most important strategies that SEED could use to improve college graduation rates and to better understand program design, outcomes, infrastructure, and best practices with respect to each of these levers (see appendix for list of interviewees). SEED and FSG selected interviewees based on the depth of their research related to each lever and/or their school s success in implementing each lever. In addition, secondary research was conducted to support the interview findings (see appendix for end notes). This research report synthesizes the secondary research and interview findings and served as a basis for identifying the most critical practices and/or programs for SEED to adopt to improve the college graduation rate of its students. 1

3 Identification of High-Impact Levers Overview of Levers Based on SEED s experience and secondary research, we identified and defined the following four key levers to increase SEED s college graduation rates: Lever 1. Academic Rigor and Curriculum 2. College Matching 3. Social and Non- Cognitive Skills 4. Financial Aid and Scholarships Description Offering a rigorous college preparatory curriculum with the appropriate mix of content areas and deep development of writing and critical thinking skills so that students are prepared for college level coursework Counseling students to research, apply to and attend schools that are a good match for them academically, socially, and financially, and have high graduation rates and strong support structures in place for first-generation, low-income students Supporting students to develop critical social, emotional, and/or non-cognitive skills (e.g., self-advocacy, self-awareness, persistence, self-discipline) to persist in the face of obstacles Engaging students and families, from as early as middle school, with information and tools that position them to be active participants in searching for and acquiring financial aid and scholarship resources for their college experience Research shows that first-generation and low-income students need to be prepared and supported academically, socially, and financially to complete their postsecondary education; Levers 1, 3, and 4 in the chart above address each of these areas respectively. 1 As Jennifer Engle and Vincent Tinto identify in their report, Moving Beyond Access, low-income and first-generation students typically have lower levels of academic preparation. They also tend to be older, less likely to receive financial support from parents, and more likely to have multiple obligations outside college, like family and work, that limit their full participation in the college experience. Research has shown that these factors lower students chances of persisting to graduation. Engle and Tinto also note that the problem is as much the result of the experiences these students have during college as it is attributable to the experiences they have before they enroll. 2 The second lever, college matching, supports each of the other levers in that students need support in navigating the college application process to ensure that they choose schools that are a good fit from an academic, social and financial perspective. 3 Each of these four levers is mutually reinforcing and the more schools implements each, the more likely students are to graduate college. 4 As one college access and success non-profit leader describes, College matching has a lot to do with the other three levers. You have to work on the other things to do college matching well. It is difficult to distinguish these levers. However, research and interviews shed some light on the relative impact of each lever to increasing graduation rates: Academic Rigor and Curriculum: Cliff Adelman s research on the drivers of college graduation illustrates that Academic Rigor and Curriculum is the most important lever. His research indicates that the intensity of the high school curriculum is the largest predictor of 2

4 degree attainment. 5 Adelman notes that However complex students attendance patterns, the principal story line leading to degrees is that of content. What one learns is what one studies, and what one brings to economic and community life. 6 College Matching: This lever is critically important to ensuring students graduate college. Matching students to colleges with strong retention programs and high graduation rates for firstgeneration and low-income students increases the likelihood that students will graduate from college. As one college access and success expert notes, You are going to want to find colleges that take the same approach that SEED takes for its students. Though it is college, it is still school. Social and Non-Cognitive Skills: The development of social and non-cognitive skills is critically important for students as a complement to a rigorous academic preparation. William Sedlacek, Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Maryland writes that up to a point, more math and other courses are useful in preparing students for higher education. Beyond that point other variables become more important to student success. 7 His research demonstrates that non-cognitive skills (see appendix for a description of Sedlacek s noncognitive variables) are important predictors of college success particularly for low-income and first-generation students. SEED s unique boarding school environment and student life curriculum provide a natural forum for building these skills. Financial Aid and Scholarships: Without access to sufficient funding, students will not be able to enroll in enough courses to complete their degree. As identified in Public Agenda s report, With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them, Young people who fail to finish college are also substantially less likely to have received scholarships or financial aid, loans or even good advice about how to get help. About 7 in 10 of those who leave school report that they did not have scholarships or financial aid, compared with about 4 in 10 of those who graduate. Though Financial Aid and Scholarships clearly plays a role in increasing graduation rates, it alone will likely not result in increased graduation rates. Studies show that even when scholarship programs are in place that drive the cost of college to zero, students still drop out. 8 In addition, by focusing primarily on academic rigor and college matching, students are more likely to be granted admission to selective institutions which offer better financial aid packages than their less selective counterparts. 9 In summary, a rigorous academic curriculum in high school is the most important driver of college graduation rates. Additionally, ensuring that students attend colleges that have high graduation rates for first-generation students as well as strong retention programs helps students to persist through college. Though developing social and non-cognitive skills in students can help to drive student success in college, students must first be prepared academically. Finally, financial aid and scholarships is certainly necessary for students to attend and persist through college, however, when students are academically prepared and matched to the appropriate college, the financial aid often falls into place for students because they attend more rigorous colleges that offer better financial aid packages. The following sections detail our findings from interviews with experts and practitioners in the field around key practices and programs that prepare students for college graduation (see appendix for an overview of each of the schools interviewed and their major programs). 3

5 Academic Rigor and Curriculum Key Findings Academic intensity is the largest predictor of college graduation. As Cliff Adelman explains in his report, The Toolbox Revisited, The academic intensity of the student s high school curriculum still counts more than anything else in pre-collegiate history in providing momentum toward completing a bachelor s degree. 10 In order to prepare students appropriately for college success and to ensure that students do not end up in remedial classes in college 11, secondary schools must bridge their high school curriculum with postsecondary expectations and curriculum. There are several ways that successful schools are ensuring academic rigor: Develop and implement a rigorous curriculum with input from teachers and from college professors to ensure that the curriculum is aligned with college expectations and curriculum. 12 Many schools with a rigorous curriculum adopt or develop college readiness standards that define what students are expected to know and be able to do by the conclusion of high school (e.g., David Conley s college readiness model). 13 Once these schools define what it means to be college ready when they graduate, they work backwards to create a developmentally appropriate curriculum that ensures students are college ready when they graduate. 14 One school practitioner explains, We are really trying to use a model where we first determine the standards on which we want students to demonstrate mastery. Then, we determine the assessments to evaluate mastery on those standards. Finally, we determine the curriculum we need to teach to get students there. In order to prepare students for the college classroom and teach them the cognitive strategies they will need in college, a rigorous curriculum should also include classes with college-level expectations, grading, and assignments (e.g. research reports, complex projects). 15 Some schools, such as University Park Campus School (UPCS), even model their senior year after college courses with lectures, seminar style classes, and semester long syllabi. 16 Research shows that it is also important for students to master several content areas and skills before college including (see appendix for Adelman s and Conley s recommendations): Content Areas: Math higher than Algebra II (finite math), English, Lab science courses, Foreign language, History and social studies, Computer science, and at least one AP course. 17 Skills: Reading and writing skills, formulating problems, conducting research, interpreting conflicting evidence, communicating conclusions and findings, completing work with precision and accuracy (Conley s Cognitive Strategies). 18 Lastly, schools that have implemented a rigorous curriculum ensure teachers are well prepared to teach high quality college prep courses by aligning hiring practices and professional development directly to college readiness goals. 19 These schools provide training to teachers so that they have a deep understanding of the practices and curriculum and they know why they are using them and can use them to the right ends. 20 Many of these schools observe teachers frequently (e.g., The Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST), has 6 observations per year: two are formal and four are abbreviated) and use successful teachers to train newer teachers or teachers that need professional development. 21 4

6 Bring in college professors to teach and/or grade assignments for high school classes to expose students to the rigor expected of college students. For example, at UPCS, students write analytical papers or lab reports that are graded by college professors to give their students a sense of the expectations in college and their current level of preparation with respect to those expectations. Alternatively, at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, college faculty supports the high school teachers in teaching the dual enrollment courses so that students get some level of exposure to college expectations. Implement a dual enrollment curriculum where students take college level courses for credit. 22 In addition to ensuring that the high school curriculum is rigorous and aligned with college expectations, dual enrollment programs also ensure students accumulate college credits before they even enter college (earning 20+ credits by the end of freshman year of college is a key predictor of degree attainment), and become acclimated to college life. 23 One school leader notes, I feel the college experience gained from a dual enrollment program is more meaningful than taking an AP course. The Early College High School Initiative (developed by the Gates Foundation and Jobs for the Future) works with over 200 schools to implement ECHS programs. The initiative has achieved significant results: 89% of their students enroll immediately in college (vs. 51% for lowincome students), 60% attend four-year colleges (vs. 44% for all students), 83% of graduates earned some college credits, and 40% earned more than one year of college credits each of these measures are predictors of college graduation. Source: Innovations in College Readiness, Thad Nodine, Jobs for the Future, October 2009 I want our students to be on a college campus rather than taking AP courses on a high school campus because it gives them a level of comfort with the college environment. Even though students are academically prepared by an AP course, they don t gain the comfort with the college campus. Some schools implement an even more robust dual enrollment program called Early College High School (ECHS) where students take college courses for credit and complete an Associate s degree or credits towards a Bachelor s degree while they are getting their high school diploma. 24 ECHSs ensure students accumulate a significant number of credits before they even officially enter college. 25 ECHSs also play a role in building the non-cognitive skills that are required to be successful in college because they expose students to campus life and challenges while in high school. Work to support struggling or new students with extra supports (e.g., summer programs, intensive tutoring) but ensure all students take rigorous classes. 26 One school leader notes that taking remedial courses in college is a death sentence to a college career. Statistics show that students are much less likely to graduate if they take remedial courses in college and it is therefore necessary for secondary schools to provide extra supports to struggling students to ensure that they do not have to take remedial classes in college. Some schools even administer the Accuplacer at end of junior or beginning of senior year to assess students likelihood of having to take remedial courses and then they use the remainder of their high school years to prepare students more rigorously. 27 Many schools offer formal and informal tutoring outside of the classroom. 28 For example, DSST offers summer school for incoming 6 th and 9 th graders to 5

7 ensure they are performing at grade level, an after school study hall, and make-up days for students that are behind. Measurement Most schools that have a rigorous curriculum have developed or adopted comprehensive college readiness standards, and used these standards to develop authentic assessments that measure student progress against the standards. As one school leader notes, We have looked at many data points, and we are not happy with any of them in isolation. We have come to realize that college readiness is a complex idea; it is more than any test score or assignment can demonstrate, it requires a comprehensive assessment of work. Many schools and researchers believe that the traditional measure of college readiness, SAT scores, alone are not a good predictor of college success, but that in fact, an assessment of college readiness requires inputs from many sources (e.g., AP courses, formative assessments, Accuplacer testing, ACT scores, competency-based assessments). 29 For example, Fenway High School uses portfolios (e.g., a collection of work that is representative of what students learned during their first three years of high school) and exhibitions (e.g., science fairs) in junior and senior year to gauge student competency with the core curriculum and to assess their readiness for college. In the long term, schools should focus on alumni survey data and student college transcript data (including number of remedial courses taken 30, number of course credits after freshman and sophomore year, performance in general education classes, dropped courses) to assess longerterm impact of the curriculum and its impact on college graduation rates. 31 College Matching Key Findings College matching is a key driver of college persistence and graduation rates. Research by Education Sector 32 and Education Trust 33 reveals that all postsecondary institutions are not created equal. As Kevin Carey explains in Diplomas and Dropouts, there are vast disparities even among schools educating similar students at the less selective institutions that educate the bulk of America s college students. 34 For example, Northeastern Illinois University, a competitive 35, public institution with 8,700 students, has a graduation rate of 16%. In comparison, Ohio State University, another competitive, public institution with a similar size (8,900 students) and demographic, has a graduation rate of 71%. 36 On average, four-year colleges graduate fewer than 60 percent of their freshman within six years, and many schools have graduation rates below 30%. 37 Given that a significant portion of postsecondary institutions fail to graduate so many students, and first generation, low-income students are at particularly high risk of dropping out, careful attention must be paid to college selection, with a particular emphasis on factors such as graduation rates and programmatic structures that support retention. Based on interviews with successful schools, schools should consider the following strategies to strengthen its college matching approach. Finally, it is important to note that SEED s boarding environment and student life staff will benefit any approach that SEED takes around college matching by providing extra support and reinforcement for students. 6

8 Build relationships with a targeted group of postsecondary schools and admissions officers to not only help students get into those schools, but to help with the handoff of students so that they are connected to college campus support services from the start. Begin by building relationships with schools where students are succeeding. 38 Over time, college counselors should make it a priority to build relationships with a wide range of college admissions officers and position students and the school model as a valuable asset. For example, the fact that SEED provides ongoing support to alumni will likely be a major selling point to admissions officers who have a vested interest in retaining students once enrolled. 39 One example is YES Prep s IMPACT Program in which they establish formal partnerships with a range of colleges and universities that agree to provide students with the financial and social support they need to be successful. These partnerships are designed to create a support network within the larger college campus by connecting students to one another, and to retention services such as student support services, tutoring centers, counseling services and extracurricular activities. All IMPACT partners agree to meet 100% of accepted students demonstrated financial need. To date, YES has established partnerships with 17 IMPACT partner schools, and expects to grow the network to over time. 40 The success of the program relies on the fact that each of the partner schools has high graduation rates, strong retention programs, and cohorts of YES Prep students on campus. Create cohorts of students that attend certain colleges together so that they have a built-in support structure. 41 This approach has proven highly successful for YES Prep, as well as the Posse Foundation. YES has cohorts of anywhere from 2-6 students at a given school, and says that persistence has been off the charts at schools where they have placed a cohort of students (90% vs % at other schools where their students attend). 42 The Posse Foundation has an 85-95% graduation rate which is partially attributed to the posses of students that it sends to college campuses. 43 YES Prep found that once one or two students from the same secondary school attend and succeed at a particular institution, admissions officers will typically be eager to take a close look at other students from that school, so cohorts can grow quickly. Develop comprehensive college prep seminars or classes that explore the nuts and bolts of the college application process and the importance of finding the right fit. 44 Bronx Lab offers a College Awareness advisory course that spans grades The last quarter of junior year is dedicated to making a college list and exploring different schools through research, college guidance meetings, and campus visits. YES Prep offers a similar course for juniors and seniors. Teacher and staff involvement in these courses is particularly important in ensuring students match to an appropriate college. 45 In particular, college counselors should ideally have prior experience in either a high school counseling or college admissions office. Critical skills and attributes include strong analytical and communications skills, ability to learn quickly, and work well with students, families and team members. 46 Initiate college discussions with students and families early on so that they understand the importance of finding the right college and so that they are exposed to the choices related to geography and cost early on in the process. 47 For example, College Summit used to only offer support to seniors in high school, but through demand from their partner high schools, College Summit is expanding its services this year to begin in 9 th grade. These partner high schools realized that they could get more students into colleges if they began the College Summit 7

9 program earlier on in high school. Now, College Summit s partner schools want to start in middle school for similar reasons. Help to build students knowledge about college options through student-driven research and individualized guidance so that they understand their college preferences (via surveys, conversations, websites, and database searches). 48 For example, at Bronx Lab, Juniors develop their own college lists by gathering important data on a range of schools, including six-year graduation and sophomore year return rates, size of institutions, demographics, and school environments. Expose students to a wide range of college options, and engage them in structured conversations around different options to challenge assumptions and help them identify what is most important to them in a college environment. For example, YES Prep and Bronx Lab asks students to compare themselves to other graduates that have attended particular schools, and requires each junior to complete detailed questionnaires identifying what they are looking for in a college and their long-term career goals. 49 These schools also use technology tools, such as College Results Online, ConnectEDU, Naviance, and The College Board to help gather information about different institutions. 50 One college counselor notes that we are building the knowledge for [students] to understand their preferences around college, so that they can make an appropriate college match. Institute requirements for students around the college application process and college visits, tours, and summer experiences so that they visit and apply to a range of schools that are a possible match for them. These might include: Ensure that students apply to a specific number of colleges with a range of selectivity and geography. YES Prep requires that students apply to at least 3 schools, including one local, one state and one national college. Bronx Lab requires that students apply to schools, including three reach, five target, and two to three likely colleges. 51 Require students to make college visits to a range of schools. YES Prep requires a minimum of 10 visits, and at Bronx Lab, most students visit schools by junior year. Require a written assignment that gets students to reflect on their experience and reactions to different colleges after the visit. Require that students have a significant summer experience on a college campus (e.g., taking summer courses on a college campus) to give them a more realistic picture of the college experience, and particular campus environments. 52 Ensure students are well prepared for college visits by equipping them with information about the schools they will be visiting, providing note-taking tips and a list of questions to ask admissions officers. Bronx Lab has found that this not only helps students get more out of the experience, but it also reflects well on their students because they appear engaged and wellinformed. 53 One college counselor explains, When students walk on the bus we give them folders with resources like note-taking tools and a list of questions they could ask in the event they got tongue-tied. For example, a student can raise his hand and ask what is your retention rate? We get great feedback about our students questions. But, those questions help students to not be nervous. Also it really helps the students to feel like, I can do this, I can interact in college and it will be ok. 8

10 Connect current students to alumni so that students get an authentic sense of college life, and the different college options available to them. 54 For example, Bronx Lab s College Buddies program connects current high school students with alumni currently enrolled in college. Each advisory group is matched with 2-5 alumni who become their college buddies and Bronx Lab students write letters and send care packages to them. To learn about the institutions their college buddies are attending, students create profiles of the colleges and universities their buddies attend to become familiar with different college options. College Selection Criteria One college counselor advises the mentality that it is ok to limit the scope of schools that their students apply to. Though college matching should be a highly individualized process 55, there are several factors that are important to consider in developing a list of recommended colleges for students. Schools should consider recommending colleges with the following characteristics: High graduation rates for low-income and first-generation students. It is important for schools to make lists of colleges with the highest graduation rates to recommend to students and those with the lowest graduation rates for students to avoid (see appendix for list of colleges with high/low graduation rates). 56 Availability of strong retention programs and services that offer the following ongoing academic, social and financial support throughout a student s entire postsecondary education (see appendix for examples of successful college retention programs). 57 Academic Factors: intentional academic planning 58, intrusive advising 59, small classes, dedicated and easily accessible faculty 60, level of selectivity 61 Social Factors: required orientation courses, courses/summer bridge programs to ease the transition to college 62, strong residential life, strong school culture 63, presence of alumni or other first-generation student networks (e.g., Posse or Gates Millennium Scholars) 64 Financial Factors: offers financial aid packages that are adequate (selective schools are more likely to cover the cost of attendance) 65 Strong administration and college leadership that are focused on retention and success of first-generation students. 66 Size of institution: While there is no research-based evidence that size of institution has an impact on graduation rates, anecdotally, some of the college counselors interviewed indicate that their students in general tend to be more successful at small to medium sized liberal arts colleges. 67 Student demographics are an important consideration for making a college match in that first-generation students and minority students are more likely to succeed when they attend schools with students of similar backgrounds and experiences because it is easier for them to integrate into campus life. 68 Measurement At this point, most schools are not formally measuring the impact of their college matching programs. The exception is YES Prep which measures the percentage of students accepted to at least one selective university to help understand their college matching success (their goal is 75%). YES Prep also tracks the graduation rates of its students that attend college as part of a 9

11 cohort and compares them to those students who are not part of a cohort to measure the success of their cohort program. Though many schools are not measuring their work in this area, SEED should also think about focusing on several pieces of data to ensure that their college matching program is successful, including: The percentage of students attending colleges with high low-income, African-American and first-generation student graduation rates The percentage of students attending colleges with strong retention programs. The percentage of alumni that transfer, stop-out 69, and drop out as a measure of satisfaction, college fit and college supports Survey data from recent graduates to determine whether they felt prepared for and knowledgeable about the college matching process Survey data from alumni to determine whether students are on track to graduate and feel that they made an appropriate college match Social and Non-Cognitive Skills Key Findings Researchers that focus on the development of social and non-cognitive skills recognize the importance of rigorous academic preparation in high school to ensure students graduate from college. However, they believe that academics only get students so far and that for low-income and first-generation college students, several social and non-cognitive skills are critically important to their success in postsecondary education including: 70 Successful schools develop these social and non-cognitive skills in their students through several different programs and activities. SEED has a particular opportunity to develop these skills in its students given its boarding environment, student life staff and existing student life curriculum. 10

12 In essence, SEED already has the basic infrastructure in place to implement the following successful activities, though it may need to make adjustments to its current configuration. Offer a College 101 course that focuses on what college life will be like that also explores topics such as social adjustments to college, race, and identity. 71 Developing a social and noncognitive skill building curriculum in grades 6-12 provides the opportunity for students to engage in explicit discussion of issues that develop the skills and awareness cited above. 72 For example, Mastery s SEL curriculum focuses on teaching self-awareness and self-management, social awareness and relationship building, and critical thinking and decision-making. Between grades 7-12, the course follows a developmental progression that covers skill development in each area. Some schools, such as Bronx Lab, have found that examining career pathways in these classes can help students to understand the choices they will have to make and the role that college plays in future choices. 73 Other schools bring in alumni to discuss the realities of college life with current students. 74 These classes should also emphasize immediate matriculation in college, continuous enrollment throughout college, and use of summer terms during college to ensure that students understand the importance of these issues which predict college graduation. 75 This type of course could either take the place of or supplement SEED s current student life curriculum. Create college partnerships to ensure that alumni have access to social support and retention programs once they arrive on campus which increases their likelihood of graduation. 76 These partnerships are also important to building cohorts of students on the college campus which provide a built in social network for students and can lead to higher college persistence rates. Building cohorts can start in high school by instituting cross-campus activities across school networks or even with other similar schools. 77 Through their IMPACT Program, YES Prep has partnered with 17 colleges where cohorts of their students attend school. One college counselor notes that the cohorts provide a level of comfort that someone else at my school understands me and what I am going through We are seeing that our students are finding kids like ours, even if there are not students there from our schools, they find KIPP or Posse students naturally. Require hands-on experiences that are specifically focused on building social and noncognitive skills. Several types of experiences in particular have been identified as important to building these skills including: dual enrollment programs 78, study abroad programs, summer opportunities (e.g., Outward Bound) 79, and internship programs. 80 The majority of these programs expose students to unfamiliar surroundings which aid in the development of social and non-cognitive skills. One college counselor notes that any summer program has its value. But, experiences that push kids to their boundaries and out of their comfort zone force kids to become worldlier, more aware, and more successful in college. The Milton Hershey School s (MHS) Year Round Experiences program provides students with these types of summer programs. For example, if a student is from an urban area, MHS will encourage that student to do a summer program that takes place in a rural area. Alternatively, offering internship programs also connects college to careers and demonstrates the social and non-cognitive skills that are required to be successful in today s job market. 81 As described in the NewSchools Venture Fund case study on Mastery Charter School s Social and Emotional Learning Program, Because the internship program is tied to workplace readiness, it helps prepare students to succeed in the outside world. 82 Additionally, interviewees noted that week-long college tours, starting as early as 11

13 middle school, offer opportunities for families and students to begin the letting go process and for students to experience college campuses. Provide experiences that mimic college life and expectations to ensure that students are exposed to the college experience before they set foot on campus. In particular, many schools include a senior year seminar that closely resembles a college-level course in terms of teaching style, assignments, and grading to teach students the skills required to learn in that environment. 83 One school leader says that, We want kids to think like college students. So, we model collegiate kinds of assessments each year. We have kids write analytical papers and have college professors grade the papers and give kids feedback so they start to understand college expectations. Additionally, some boarding schools such as the Milton Hershey School have reorganized residential housing for seniors to mimic a college dorm and college life (e.g., provide stipends for food, etc.). 84 These experiences offer a less structured environment for seniors so that they can begin to transition to college life while still in a supported atmosphere. SEED may want to consider implementing an independent living skills program whereby students receive increasing amounts of responsibility over senior year (e.g., more freedom, control over a budget, getting meals on their own). Connect alumni to community mentors or counselors to help smooth the transition to college and mitigate the sense of isolation and feeling of being overwhelmed freshman year. 85 Having individualized support from someone who has been a successful first-generation college student helps both the student and the family to make the transition and to persist through college. 86 A body of emerging research (from experts such as William Sedlacek, Carol Dweck, Angela Duckworth, Daphna Oyserman, Gabriele Oettingen, and Scott Solberg) suggests that schools should focus, in particular, on building persistence and a focus on long-term goal setting in order to be successful in college. These experts have also identified several interventions that focus on the use of the language, methods of goal setting, and theories of intelligence to use with students throughout the curriculum to build these two skills (note: these interventions have only been used in research settings to date). It is important to keep in mind when implementing these interventions that first-generation, low-income students who have figured out a way to persist through high school are tremendously resourceful and typically have more persistence than their higher-income peers. Schools need to frame interventions and language use that further develop these inherent capabilities as asset-building versus making up a deficit. 87 Additionally, SEED s boarding environment and student life staff would provide additional opportunities to work on building social and non-cognitive skills outside of the classroom. Emerging interventions include the following: Focus on mental contrasting to build persistence. Angela Duckworth, et al note that Successful goal attainment requires sufficient commitment to goals. It also requires the planning and enactment of appropriate goal-oriented behaviors during the subsequent goalstriving phase. Mental contrasting, the contrasting of fantasies about a desired future with reflections about its impending reality, is a strategy that leads to strong commitment in adults. Duckworth s research demonstrates that this approach also works with students. Her team shows that students that set goals but also define the obstacles to reaching those goals are more likely to actually reach them. Her work also demonstrates that supplementing mental contrasting techniques with implementation intentions are important for goal attainment. Using 12

14 implementation intentions, a plan that details when, where, and how the individual will take action, makes goal realization more probable. 88 Implementation intensions usually take the form of if x occurs, I will do z to continue to try to reach my goal. Similarly, Oyserman notes that by providing concrete positive expected and negative to-be-avoided future images (of oneself), possible selves personalize goals and connect current behaviors to future states. 89 Oettingen s work highlights that mentally contrasting feasible futures enables people to successfully tackle negative feedback on the way to wish fulfillment. 90 Finally, Scott Solberg created an effective program of 15 lessons, called Success Highways, which helps students realize that education is relevant to their goals, and creates a necessary resiliency so students can move past any obstacles in order to achieve those goals (see for more information on Success Highways). Praise students for process and hard work rather than for outcomes because this emphasizes their effort and teaches them that they can improve with hard work. 91 Carol Dweck s research focuses on the language that is used with students to demonstrate that hard work and effort (which build persistence) are important. In Dweck s report, Subtle Linguistic Cues Affect Children s Motivation, she found, "Generic praise implies there is a stable ability that underlies performance; subsequent mistakes reflect on this ability and can therefore be demoralizing. When criticized, children who had been told they were good drawers [originally, but that made a mistake] were more likely than those who had been told they did a good job drawing to denigrate their skill, feel sad, avoid the unsuccessful drawings and even drawing in general, and fail to generate strategies to repair their mistake. Dweck s research demonstrates that subtle differences in language can have a significant impact on the persistence of students. Additionally, Angela Duckworth also found that when educators prepare students to anticipate failures and misfortunes they are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges. 92 In her report, Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals, Duckworth notes the importance of grit to a student s success and believes that we should prepare youth to anticipate failures and misfortunes and point out that excellence in any discipline requires years and years of time on task. Focus on teaching students that their intelligence is built over time as opposed to something that they are born with because this causes them to display more positive motivation in the classroom, and in turn to achieve more. Teachers can teach this theory directly and/or praise students for effort and process instead of outcomes (as described above). 93 Carol Dweck s research shows that an adolescent s core beliefs can set up different responses to obstacles or challenges. For example, in Dweck s report, Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention, she found that theories of intelligence can be manipulated in real-world contexts and have a positive impact on achievement outcomes. She shows that students who believe that they can build their intelligence over time were more likely to succeed academically than those who believed that they were born with a certain level of intelligence that is unchangeable. Use language that reinforces that college is not the destination but rather a stepping stone for something greater. 94 In Public Agenda s report, With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them, the authors found that students who leave college realize that a diploma is an asset, but they may not fully recognize the impact dropping out of school will have on their future. The report found that students who drop out of college are less likely to believe in the benefits of education and the role it plays in making a living than their peers that do graduate. As one college access 13

15 and success expert says, I would try to embed career counseling into the college readiness program. We tend to position college as a destination rather than focusing on achieving something that is greater than that. Teach students how to ask for help when they need it and to access campus resources when they are available. 95 A college access and success expert points out that high schools need to get students to ask for help and utilize resources on college campuses. You need to destigmatize the use of those resources. And, you need to really embed in students the concept of asking for help when they don t understand something. Measurement In general, most interviewees believe that it is difficult to assess the social and non-cognitive skill of students. Generally, cognitive ability typically measures capacity while non-cognitive abilities typically measure propensity to act in a certain way. While, capacity can be measured with tests, propensity to act in a certain way can only be measured by integrating observations over time by the individual or a close observer which can be very subjective. However, several researchers have identified the following methods for measuring social and non-cognitive skills: (1) Design assessments of college readiness standards. David Conley notes that there are several ways to measure success around his dimensions for college readiness. He suggests that schools collect classroom evidence to evaluate students progress on cognitive strategies and questionnaires to determine the quality of preparation programs that develop students contextual skills and awareness. In order to measure progress on academic behaviors, Conley suggests conducting student surveys on strategies that they use and to hold discussions between students and teachers to assess progress and competency. 96 (2) Focus on qualitative assessments (journals and portfolios) and self-assessments (pre-and post-classes) in order to understand students progress over time. 97 Many schools use these subjective assessments and selfreflections as a good way of measuring these skills. Though they are subjective in nature, they provide insight into student s progress. (3) Use questionnaires that have already been developed by third parties to measure non-cognitive skills. Duckworth developed the Grit-S questionnaire that measures perseverance and passion for long-term goals. 98 While William Sedlacek developed the Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) to assess the eight non-cognitive attributes that he has found to be more predictive of success in higher education. 99 Financial Aid and Scholarships Key Findings Financial aid and scholarships is a key component for increasing college graduation rates. Though financial aid and scholarships alone will likely not result in increased graduation rates, facilitating the financial aid process for students is an important step in getting them to realize they can in fact afford and therefore attend college. Additionally, matching students to colleges that are a good financial fit is critically important in ensuring they can persist and graduate from that college. Interviews with experts and successful schools revealed that the most effective strategies are those that are more focused on teaching families about accessing financial aid than on directly providing financial support such as scholarships or stipends. Strategies that teach families how to access aid are more successful because they require families to become 14

16 personally and financially invested in the college process (and therefore the outcomes of their postsecondary education) and they provide leveraged ways to increase the financial aid for all SEED students, which will become especially important as the SEED Foundation opens additional schools and increases the number of students it serves. Successful secondary schools are engaging in several practices to ensure their students apply for and receive appropriate financial aid packages: Offer workshops, classes, or individual meetings to educate students and families about financial aid and guide them through the financial aid process. Supporting families in gathering the documents necessary to complete the FAFSA is important given that this is often the most difficult part of the FAFSA process. 100 Additionally, it is important to educate families on the role and viability of loans and work/study in order to mitigate fears and common misconceptions so that students do not only focus on low-cost institutions or attend college part-time. 101 Drawing parallels to other forms of debt that families are familiar with (e.g., car payments, mortgages, etc.) and breaking down the cost of loan payments over time are effective ways to introduce the idea of loans to families. 102 In designing offerings, schools should consider several things: Start Early: Expose students and families to the financial aid process early on so that they understand, apply for and receive aid in a timely manner, making their total cost of education more predictable. 103 As one college counselor explains, we decided to educate our younger students about the financial aid process because we found that kids were reaching junior and senior year and did not know what the FAFSA was and were not familiar with other financial aid terms and the costs associated with college. 104 Be Knowledgeable: Ensure that college counselors are knowledgeable about financial aid or schools should partner with organizations that are specifically focused on financial aid (e.g., ACCESS, CollegeBound Foundation, financial aid officers at local colleges). 105 Make it Simple: Design offerings to make the process appear as simple as possible because the complexity is often what deters students and families from applying for aid. 106 Require students and families to apply to summer programs, distance learning courses, and music, art, and sports instruction to expose them to the financial aid process earlier. 107 Many schools believe that applying for financial aid for a summer program mimics the college financial aid process. Many schools also advise that students and families should pay for a portion of these programs on their own so that they have some skin in the game. For those students that truly cannot afford it, schools will require them to work it off at the school. Contributing to their education, either financially or by working helps students to value their investment in education while teaching them about the financial aid process. 108 One college counselor notes, Our summer program is really what has been significant for educating students about financial aid. When kids get a $5000 scholarship for Outward Bound and they have to pay $500 of their own and then get another scholarship to cover the rest, it mirrors the college experience. 109 SAT Prep courses and/or college visit trips are other types of programs where schools can require students to contribute as a way to teach them about the financial aid process and the value of an education. Train counselors to negotiate with colleges on students financial aid packages because lowincome, first-generation students are desirable and colleges may be willing to lower the net price 15

17 for these students. One college access and success expert notes that everyone needs to understand that you can negotiate with colleges on financial aid packages. There is sticker price and then there is the real price. A lot of colleges want students like SEED students in their class. They want economic and racial diversity. Take advantage of this. 110 Institute requirements for students around filling out the FAFSA 111 and applying for quality scholarships they have researched via websites or databases (e.g., Naviance). 112 For example, Mastery requires students to have a FAFSA pin before winter break and have completed the FAFSA by January 30th. Additionally, YES Prep requires 10 scholarship applications while MATCH and Mastery both require three scholarship applications. College Track requires students to apply to scholarships for college every year throughout high school (requirements include: 2 scholarship applications as freshman, 4 as sophomores, 6 as juniors, 12 as seniors). One college access and success nonprofit leader says their students start in freshman year to apply for financial aid. They make this more palatable by educating students about the process and by taking concrete steps towards getting financial aid. In addition, schools should highlight scholarships that make their financial aid package predictable. Given that many scholarships are awarded for freshman year, students often find that they do not have enough aid to meet their need in subsequent years. By highlighting multi-year scholarships and including a plan for grant aid after freshman year, students can make informed decisions about their education based on their financial needs. 113 Develop the financial literacy skills of students and families. A college access and success expert notes that Many students arrive at college unable to monitor their personal finances; students and parents are unaware of college costs and the appropriate uses of financial aid; and the availability of financial literacy information on college campuses, particularly among students who need it the most, is irregular or nonexistent. 114 To combat these problems, several secondary schools have begun to bring in local banks to talk about using checking accounts, filling out credit card applications and balancing work and college loans in an appropriate way. 115 One college counselor explains that they work with local banks to build the financial literacy skills of their students so that students understand how and when to spend money. Develop partnerships with key colleges that agree to cover 100% of student s unmet financial need. Through its IMPACT program, YES Prep partners with certain colleges where its students have been successful in the past. Because YES students have had success at these institutions, these colleges agree to cover 100% of YES Preps students unmet financial need. 116 This program has also changed the way that YES Prep thinks about financial aid for its students. In fact, one college counselor points out that his school is now at a point where they identify schools that will not meet the financial need of our students and we won t allow them to be on the college list of our students. 117 Consider providing incentive grants to students throughout high school to apply towards their college education. Through its Bank Book Deposits, College Track grants its students up to $700 per semester (totaling up to $5,600 after four years) depending on whether they meet certain requirements or performance expectations. These funds are meant for college and College Track has found that though they do not cover the cost of college, they do provide a way to keep the college momentum going by covering expenses such as books, housing deposits, and 16

18 supplies. 118 Another potential incentive grant could take the form of a 529 savings plan where families contribute and the school matches those contributions based on certain student or family performance or commitment. Measurement Most schools are measuring their success in this area by tracking the total scholarship dollars their students receive. Unfortunately, this method of tracking only tells part of the story. However, more sophisticated schools are measuring whether their students financial needs were met by the financial aid packages they receive. These schools ensure that their students have the right mix of scholarships, loans, and work/study options to increase the likelihood that they will persist and graduate from college. In the short-term, instead of just tracking total financial aid or scholarship dollars received, schools should track the amount of funding by type of aid across each year of college as well as the percent of total college costs that are covered by financial aid packages. In the long-term, analysis should be conducted that allows schools to assess the impact of type and amount of financial aid or scholarships on graduation rates so it can modify services or programs based on the impact. In collecting the data for these analyses, it will also be important for schools to design incentives so that students continue to provide data to the school after their freshman year in college, especially as the alumni population grows. 119 Next Steps It is important to note, that these best practices are a starting point for discussion. Though each is grounded in research and the experience of successful schools, schools will need to identify which programs and activities make most sense to implement for their students. The insight and experience of the school staff is invaluable to understanding which activities would actually succeed within the specific schools. Additionally, it will be particularly important to build on the work that a school has implemented as opposed to starting from scratch. Finally, as schools determine which practices to implement and how to implement them, the school team will want to conduct some additional research into the actual financial and resource investment required for particular outcomes. 17

19 Appendix Table of Contents: Appendix A: List of Interviewees Appendix B: Overview of Schools and Programs Appendix C: Academic Requirements and College & Career Readiness Appendix D: Graduation Rates for Postsecondary Institutions Appendix E: Examples of Colleges with Successful College Retention Programs Appendix F: End Notes 18

20 Appendix A: List of Interviewees 19

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