Building better bridges with K-12

A new coalition of K-12 and higher education organizations has launched a national campaign to help students successfully transition from high school to colleges and careers.

Level Up will share promising practices and support policies that better prepare high school students for college, especially among low-income families and those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Too often, high school students have aspirations to go to college but upon graduation are not ready for college-level work. Reducing that gap requires closer collaboration between K-12, higher education and other stakeholders, said Matt Gandal, president of the Education Strategy Group.

“It’s easier to stay in our lanes,” he said at an event Friday in Washington, D.C., to kick off the campaign. “But staying in our lanes won’t help students.”

Expectations, transitions, support

Organizers said the campaign will focus on three key areas: aligning expectations, facilitating seamless transitions and extending navigational support. A new website provides recommendations to improve student success in each of those areas, such as simplifying the federal student aid application process, providing more opportunities for students to earn college credit while still in high school, and rethinking developmental education, among others.

One program featured on the website was Miami Dade College’s (MDC) pre-college advising program, which is a comprehensive series of programs, activities and counseling sessions that guide students, even before they enter college.

“It has to be a holistic approach,” MDC President Eduardo Padrón said at Friday’s event. He noted that it is critical for colleges to develop close relationships with K-12, especially with principals.

MDC brings its advisors to schools and shares its resources with them, Padrón said. The college also has developed faculty-to-faculty workshops between K-12 and college faculty to ensure curricula is aligned, especially in math and English.

“It takes a team that’s really committed,” Padrón said.

MDC also uses peer-to-peer recruitment. MDC students serve as college ambassadors and return to their former high schools to share their experiences and to provide advice, such as applying for student aid.

“This is probably more effective than anything that we do,” Padrón said.

Students’ perspective

Friday’s event also featured a panel of local college students who participated in a program that guided them from high school through college. The Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success program is a partnership among Montgomery College, Montgomery public schools and Universities of Shady Grove, a unique regional higher education center with outposts operated at several state universities.

Students in the program are paired with coaches who help them navigate college, from enrolling at the college and selecting courses, to applying for student aid and transferring credits to a four-year institution.

Rifa Ariella, a first-generation student at Montgomery College studying communications, noted that when she learns about new resources that help her through college, she shares them with family and friends, many of whom also are first-generation college students.

“It’s comforting to know we can pass that knowledge around,” she said.

College/K-12 leaders meeting: The American Association of Community Colleges and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, will host a meeting of community college and K-12 leaders March 24–25 in Washington, D.C., to discuss college and career readiness.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.