How can organizations increase college readiness, access, and persistence?

The Opportunity

In today’s labor market, not having a postsecondary degree can become a serious impediment to long-term economic success. According to recent research by M.I.T. economist David Autor, not going to college costs an individual around $500,000 in lost earnings over the course of their life. When we also consider that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the United States will require some form of postsecondary credentials, we can visualize the foundational effect that attending, or not attending college has on people’s lives.

Yet, given the importance of receiving a postsecondary degree, the national average for college degree attainment for adults ages 25–64 is 40 percent. The rate of postsecondary degree attainment varies from state to state, with some representing a more urgent need for action than others. In Arizona, for instance, only 36.9 percent of adults ages 25–64 have a college degree. And while 30% of Arizona’s total population is Hispanic, only 17 percent of this population has at least a two-year degree, compared to 45 percent of whites. There are several underlying factors for the low and inequitable attainment rate in Arizona, and other states across the country. These can be broadly described as challenges of college readiness, access to college, and persistence through college.

“We simply can’t afford to have a high school diploma become the terminal degree for our students.”

Linda Jensen, Director, Arizona College Access Network

The Response

The college access field is composed of many types of people, programs, and organizations working together to ensure that all students have access to postsecondary education, as well as the knowledge and skills to successfully persist to graduation. While some college access programs are comprehensive, many are specialized, making coordination and collaboration between programs with varying approaches challenging. This has led some communities to experience duplication of services, while others may miss an important service altogether. To alleviate these challenges and address the low attainment rate in Arizona, the Arizona College Access Network (AzCAN) developed the College Access Standards for Student Success. These standards allow for a shared understanding of what factors contribute the most to a student’s awareness of college, their persistence through college, and their attainment of postsecondary degrees.

To enable college access programs to gauge the integration and implementation of the standards into their daily work, AzCAN engaged Equal Measure to help develop the standards into an online self-assessment and companion toolkit. The AzCAN College Access Standards Toolkit aims to help college access organizations better understand what they are doing well, why they do what they do, and how to know whether they are succeeding. To inform the design of the self-assessment and toolkit, Equal Measure reviewed existing college access frameworks, and established advisory groups of practitioners and college access and success professionals — in Arizona and nationally — to test the self-assessment and toolkit process, and provide ongoing guidance.

The Results

AzCAN is actively promoting use of the self-assessment and toolkit by college access organizations in Arizona, and has been approached by organizations from five other states (California, Kentucky, Iowa, Washington, and Illinois) to use or adapt the standards to their own context. Widespread use of the self-assessment toolkit by college access organizations in Arizona will enable AzCAN to paint a landscape of which organizations are focusing on certain services, and which are focusing on others — allowing targeted efforts for better coordination between programs. Filling the gaps in college access services, and optimizing existing services, will enable students to be successful by providing them with the knowledge and skills to navigate systemic barriers, and raise the bar in postsecondary completion for students across the state.

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