Americas high school students have higher educational aspirations than ever before. Eighty-eight percent of 8th graders expect to participate in some form of postsecondary education (1), and approximately 70 percent of high school graduates actually do go to college within two years of graduating (2). These educational aspirations cut across racial and ethnic lines; as with the national sample cited above, 88 percent of all students surveyed for Stanford Universitys Bridge Project, a six year national study, intend to attend some form of postsecondary education. In each of the six states studied for this report (California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Texas), over 80 percent of African American and Latino students surveyed plan to attend some form of postsecondary education. But states have created unnecessary and detrimental barriers between high school and college, barriers that are undermining these student aspirations. The current fractured systems send students, their parents, and K-12 educators conflicting and vague messages about what students need to know and be able to do to enter and succeed in college. For example, this research found that high school assessments often stress different knowledge and skills than do college entrance and placement requirements. Similarly, the coursework between high school and college is not connected; students graduate from high school under one set of standards and, three months later, are required to meet a whole new set of standards in college. Current data systems are not equipped to address studentsneeds across systems, and no one is held accountable for issues related to student transitions from high school to college.
Many students and parents are confused by what is expected of students
when they enter college, and these misunderstandings can contribute to
poor preparation for college. We found that many students believe a variety
of misconceptions, ranging from Meeting high school graduation requirements
will prepare me for college, to Community colleges dont
have academic standards(see page 31 of the full report, for a complete
list of misconceptions).
How can we achieve these ends? For a start, college stakeholders must
be brought to the table when K-12 standards are developed. Likewise, K-12
educators must be engaged as postsecondary education admission and placement
policies are under review. Reforms across the two education systems will
be difficult if not impossible to implement without meaningful communication
and policymaking between the levels.
There are several other important steps that states, K-12 schools and
districts, postsecondary institutions and systems, and the federal government
can take to improve the transition from high school to college for all
students. These include:
These recommendations will be easier to accomplish, and more effective in their implementation, if there is an overall organizational base for K-16 policymaking and oversight. Having a K-16 entity does not, however, ensure that innovative K-16 reforms will follow. Only a concerted effort by policymakers, educators, parents, and students will do the job. Implementing these recommendations will not magically eliminate the dozens of other reasons why students are not prepared adequately for college. But they are important steps toward developing a more equitable educational experience for all students, and providing all students with the preparation they need to succeed in college.
(1)National Center for Education Statistics. 1996. National Education
Longitudinal Study: 1988-1994;
For additional information on these and other Bridge Project activities, please contact Mike Kirst .