Which school do you want to support?
Most parents expect K-12 education to prepare their kids for success in college. This is too often a flawed assumption.
A leaky bucket carries students from kindergarten to and through college. Most fall out along the way. About one student in ten doesn’t graduate from high school. Of those that do graduate, many don’t qualify for a four-year college because they haven’t completed the necessary courses. Students who finish high school ready for college do not necessarily go to college. Many students who start college don’t finish with a degree.
Colleges aren't all the same, of course. California’s system of public higher education has three tiers, with different functions and different expectations. The top tier of the system is the University of California (UC), which offers both undergraduate and graduate courses and degrees. The second tier is the California State University (CSU), which offers four-year undergraduate courses and degrees. The largest tier is the state’s massive system of Community Colleges, which offer two-year degrees. Lesson 9.7 will explain this system in more detail; for now it is enough to understand the tiers.
To qualify for admission to one of California's four-year colleges, students need to take and pass the set of high school courses known as the a-g requirements. As explained in Lesson 6.2, these courses are often more rigorous than the state's minimum graduation requirements.
California’s K-12 education system has made college and career readiness its central design goal. In principle, all students that meet the a-g requirements and retain what they have learned complete high school academically prepared for college.
In their junior year, California high school students get information about their readiness for college-level work by taking the 11th grade CAASPP test. The California State University (CSU) uses this computer-adaptive test as a placement exam through the Early Assessment Program. Students who meet the standard or exceed it can qualify to place out of remedial classes that might bore them. As part of this change, CSU also took the big step of making all of its courses credit-bearing.
California's goal for each student is readiness for college or career, as explained in Ed100 Lesson 6.11. Students can demonstrate career readiness through completion of pathways as measured by an indicator on the California School Dashboard.
It might seem obvious that these tests are aligned between high school and college. Of course it makes sense for high school standards, college placement requirements, and standardized testing systems to be connected between California public high schools and the California State University, right? But it's not so simple. CSU is governed and funded separately from the K-12 system. No organizational mandate requires these systems to get along. It only happened because leaders made the move a priority over a long period of time. It actually took years to put this system into place. The Early Assessment Program serves as evidence that with persistence big systems really can be made to work together.
A college counselor can advise students through the process of applying for college, applying for financial aid, and choosing a college that will be a good fit. There are many steps in this process, and effective college counselors can help students navigate them successfully.
Unfortunately, virtually all California schools long ago reduced the number of counselors on their faculty, including college counselors. In 2018-19, the average California school had one counselor for every 612 students. According to data collected by the American School Counselor Association. California isn't the worst in America on this measure, but it's close.
California's school finance system does not set aside special funds for college counseling. School districts have the power to invest in college counselors or other college-going strategies, if they want to, using the flexible funds they receive as part of the Local Control Funding Formula. It's a local choice.
If a school doesn't have a college counselor, what are the options? Few families can afford to hire a college consultant to help their student with the process. According to the Independent Educational Consultant Association, the average independent college consultant charges $200 per hour. The profession is flourishing.
Lacking a counselor or consultant, some schools assign a faculty member to serve as a "point person" for college advising. Others contract with a partner program such as AVID, TRIO Upward Bound, or Peer Forward (formerly College Summit). These programs focus on the nuts-and-bolts process of college application, admission and enrollment. Some also support students through peer-led programs, or individually through mentorship programs or after-school lessons.
College readiness for each student is an explicit goal of California's public education system. Over the course of a K-12 public education, California's taxpayers invest many thousands of dollars in each student. But in most ways that matter, the K-12 system is indifferent to whether students advance to college. The system has no built-in incentive to support students in their transition to life beyond 12.
So what percentage of California’s high school students actually go to college?
An excellent question, which we will tackle in Lesson 9.8. First, let's explore a little bit about what it takes to answer questions like that. California's data systems for education are in a terrible condition.
Search all lesson and blog content here.
Login with Email
We will send your Login Link to your email
address. Click on the link and you will be
logged into Ed100. No more passwords to