Higher Education Leaders Must Boost College Completion Efforts, U.S. Education Department’s Kanter Says - Higher Education

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Higher Education Leaders Must Boost College Completion Efforts, U.S. Education Department’s Kanter Says

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In order to achieve better rates of college completion, higher education leaders must make sure their perspectives and expertise play a bigger role in the national effort to define college and career readiness.

That was one of key messages that U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Martha J. Kanter delivered Thursday at the annual meeting of the National Association of System Heads (NASH) and the Education Trust joint initiative, “Access to Success.” Formed in 2007, the purpose of the initiative is to cut attainment gaps between low-income students or minority students and other students through better use of data, academic interventions and best practices.

Regarding the  Common Core State Standards – a newly-developed set of K-12 standards that have been adopted by the vast majority of states – Kanter said the standards’ legitimacy depends on their acceptance by institutions of higher education.

“They won’t be valid unless higher ed says they are,” Kanter said.

Kanter’s talk – the only public event in the otherwise closed meeting of NASH, which drew 65 participants from roughly two dozen state college systems – was largely a call to action for higher education leaders.

Among other things, Kanter urged college and university officials to work to cut the need for remedial education in half, produce better-prepared K-12 teachers and work for better assessments at the K-12 level so that students know how prepared they are for college.

She said the Obama Administration’s college completion agenda should not be viewed merely in terms of whether the country can reach the numerical goal of having 60 percent of all citizens with an undergraduate degree, versus 40 percent when the goal was announced in 2009.

“It isn’t just about the numbers,” Kanter said. “It’s about demonstrating the quality of what you’re doing.”

Along those lines, Kanter asked the system heads at the meeting to come forth with evidence of success based on their best practices.

         
But while Kanter called for evidence of success, stats on the effectiveness of Access to Success itself is not yet available, Education Trust officials said.

Still, early indications are that the systems with the most success are the ones that make services such as advising and enrollment in academic support courses mandatory instead of optional, said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for closing the achievement gap by promoting high academic achievement for all students.

The Access to Success Initiative involves 24 state university systems that have joined to increase the number of college graduates in their states and ensure that those graduates more closely represent the demographics of their high school graduates. The role of the Education Trust is to report on the project’s success.

At the conference Thursday, system leaders acknowledged that the goal of closing the attainment gap has proven an elusive one to meet.

Dr. Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University system,  one of the earliest members of the Access to Success initiative, said while his system’s graduation rates have improved significantly, the increase for underrepresented minorities has not kept pace.

“So that’s been a disappointment,” Reed said. “We are going to redouble our efforts, focusing on underrepresented minorities in the CSU system.”

Among other things Reed said, CSU plans to start a program next fall called “Early Start.” The program will be based on placement tests the system will give to 11th graders to let students and teachers know how prepared the students are for CSU coursework.

For those students who don’t do well on the algebra or English portions of the exams, they will be asked to retake algebra and a writing class, respectively, in 12th grade or the summer before college.

In line with Kanter’s call for higher education leaders to play a bigger role in the K-12 standards movement, Reed said his system already has been approached by various organizations that are working on the standards regarding his system’s plans for the Early Start program, which he plans to present at the conference today.

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