Education Chat

Minding the Gap

Nancy Hoffman and Joel Vargas discussed integrating high school and postsecondary education.

October 11, 2007

Minding the Gap

Nancy Hoffman
, the vice president for youth transitions at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating education and career opportunities for all; and Joel Vargas, a program director at Jobs for the Future.

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):

Welcome to today’s live chat with Nancy Hoffman and Joel Vargas, two of the editors of the new book Minding the Gap: Why Integrating High Schools with College Makes Sense and How to Do It. We have a large volume of questions so we’ll get started right away.

Question from Reed Markham, Professor, Daytona Beach Community College:

What do you view as the major roadblocks to successfully integrating high school and college programs?

Nancy Hoffman:

THERE ARE both policy and practice barriers. A number of them are outlined in Minding the Gap in the policy and practice pathways section. But a short list would include the historic suspicion between high school teachers and leaders and professors and higher ed administratots-- you don’t prepare students well on one side and you don’t support them well once they arrive on the other. Policy barriers have to do wtih--big issues-- different funding streams, no cross secvtor governance, and little issues--credits versus Carnegie units, schedules,

Question from Barbara Pellegrini, Evaluator, Materials Research Institute, Northwestern University:

When you use the word “college”, are you limiting your discussion to only 4 yr. academic institutions , or are you also including 2 and 4 year technical colleges , institutes and apprenticeship programs that prepare people for specific fields of work such as electricians, radio /TV engineering, airplane mechanics, nursing, ets. ? It seems unreasonable to assume that all secondary students will need a 4 yr bachelor’s degree to help maintain America’s competitive edge.

Nancy Hoffman:

I coudn’t agree with you more. We struggle constantly with finding the right word. Jobs for the Future where I work has a goal for our youth work that is “a postsescondary CREDENTIAL by age 26 leading to a family supporting wage. By credntial we mean industry certificate, 2 or 4 year degree. The problem is that in common parlance people use “college” and so we do to. The title of the book wouldn’t roll off the tongue very well if it were: Integrating Postsecondary Credentials...

Question from Amy Christie, Director of College Placement, Bronx Lab School, NYC DoE:

What structure of personel/programming do you think is necessary in order to increase college-going rates of low-income, minority and/or first-generation students? How should a school structure itself to be successful?

Joel Vargas:

There are many answers. Here are just a couple of thoughts. It’s important for the curriculum to be designed so that it creates a coherent course of study that prepares students for, and then supports their success in, postsecondary courses that lead to a credential or degree. In early college high schools, for example, high school and postsecondary faculty should co-design the curriculum so that it gradually scaffolds students’ understanding of and facility with college-level expectations. This is different than a school that just allows students to take some dual credit courses according to taste as enrichment opportunities. Support mechanisms, like those described by Jennifer Lerner and Betsy Brand in their chapter of our book, should also be included. These include provide “caring adult advisors” and “academic assistance and tutoring.” Many early college high schools, for example, include a “college seminar” course that supports high school students as they take college courses.

Question from Reed Markham, Professor, Daytona Beach Community College:

What best practices in the integration of high school and college have you observed?

Joel Vargas:

Two very good examples are found in two chapters in our book: the City University of New York’s collection of college preparation and success initiatives (e.g., College Now and early college high schools) and the early college high school partnership described by Cecilia Cunningham and Roberta Matthews at Brooklyn College. What distinguishes these partnerships is that they are genuine partnerships. They engage postsecondary faculty as well as high school faculty. They are also focused on how to support academically underachieving students to become ready for college through accelerated strategies and pathways.

Question from Dr. Matthew Delaney-NBCT, Educational Leadership Adjunct, Nova Southeastern University:

Colleges and universities complain that many students are not adequately prepared for college level work. They note a growing need to provide remedial courses in order that students may be better prepared to succeed in undergraduate studies. How can schools implement effective programs for promising students who require some level of remediation to succeed in college? Do you feel that the emphasis placed upon NCLB and state mandated assessments contribute or detract from college readiness?

Joel Vargas:

Regarding your first question, I think one effective practice in which schools and postsecondary institutions can engage is early assessment testing for college readiness. The idea is that a local postsecondary system can send earlier and stronger signals to students, families, and teachers about their readiness for postsecondary work by giving high school students an assessment that determines their readiness for college-credit bearing coursework. For this to work, the assessment should be diagnostic and provide sufficient information for students and teachers to act upon: whether that be in special courses designed to close the readiness gaps in certain skill areas or other interventions. Chapters by David Spence, and Bridget Long and Erin Riley suggest more elements of successful efforts such as these which have been undertaken in states like California and Ohio. The answer to your second question is harder. The intent of NCLB is hard to deliver in implementation. For example, even while NCLB is about helping all students meet higher standards, many state high school exit exams are not even calibrated to the expectations for success in postsecondary education (for more on this, see work done by Achieve, Inc. which also has a chapter in the book). That being said, the intent seems to be a good one to continue trying to pursue.

Question from Susan Copeland, Directorate for Education, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris (OECD):

Although this work seems most relevant to the US education system, are there lessons for educators and education policy makers in other countries?

Joel Vargas:

Hi Susan: Simoin Field has a copy of the book, so you might borrow it and have a look. But the answer to your question is that other countries could learn about how NOT to build a disconnected system. I think we could learn from places that have increased their higher ed attainment rates so that now the US is 16th in the OECD rankings, I believe. What other countries could probably benefit from is the ideology that underlies a lot of this work-- ie, that the state has a responsibility to provide support not just to students who readily meet the standard for admission but to those who need extra support -- that is, advancing those who are disadvantaged.

Question from Vickie Echols, Grant Coordinator, Pine Tree ISD:

How can schools guide low-income students’ participation in AP or dual credit?

Nancy Hoffman:

Schools need to scaffold and suppot students to prepare for dual enrollment or AP. We do not recommend that students take dual enrollment courses without support-- both academic and help in negotiating college culture and expectations. A great model to look at is CUNY system’s College Now in New York City. They have the best continuum of programs to help students prepare and gain college credit. Finally, we have a preference for college courses given by a postsecondary institution versus AP because the AP credit depends on a high stakes, one chance test while a good college courses should have multiple and sequential measures.

Question from Michael Jones, Teacher:

What role do you think virtual high schools and distance education courses in college play in the integration of the high school and college experience?

Nancy Hoffman:

While our organiztion, Jobs for the Future, does not do much around distance education, we certainly believe that it is one among a set of strategies to provide challenging work to young people who might not otherwise have access. BUt there are two sides to this coin: young people working in a virtual environment may become disengaged without human support OR they may find the absence of human judgement a reflief and benefit from working out of the sight of adults. How the virtual learning is structured makes a major difference as does its quality.

Question from Joe Petrosino, EdD, Vo Tech:

Our Vo Tech is already integrating high school with college. The problem becomes a trust issue between the teachers and leadership team due to the fact that the school ( in some educators minds) will no longer be a “Vo Tech” but will now become a “college prepatory program”. How can trust be built between all the stakeholders in an effort to show that this is a good program for students?

Joel Vargas:

This sounds like a conversation that’s potentially bogged down in perceptions tied to the old “sorting” purposes of high schools. It seems important to start focusing on actual skills and standards that students need to learn to be prepared for further education or jobs with family sustaining wages and opportunities for advancement. Achieve, Inc. has done research suggesting that the skills and standards needed for first year college success and success in such jobs are converging. Anthony Carnevale’s chapter in our book on the Dept. of Labor’s O’Net database suggests some other ways to understand what skills employers expect of employees in various industries. It seems like a productive start to engage stakeholders with a conversation about these skills and what options you’d like students to have.

Question from MaryAnn Manuel, Instructor Developmental Math, Graceland University:

I recently heard a report giving a prediction that in the future there would be a shortage of students in the trades like plumbers, mechanics, etc. The reason given was society is putting such an emphasis on College/degrees that fewer students are attending trade schools. Further, more High Schools are removing their Vocational Ed programs/course. Is it really neceassary for all students to attend college? What happens to careers where 2 years at a trade school is adequate. Have we become so focused on earning large wages and getting degrees that trade schools will no longer exist or serve a purpose.

Nancy Hoffman:

Although the subtitle of our book is, Why Integrating High School with College Makes Sense... we are very clear that by postsecondary credential, we mean industry certificate, 2 or 4-year degree. We do believe that most young people need some postsecondary education, but that can certainly include learning a trade. The point that most people are making about high school preparation is that it must be very strong no matter what a young person chooses to do after graduating. The classic example of skill needs for those heading into trades is that computer and math skills required to repair a car today. And of course, there are many trades that can earn a young person an adequate wage.

Question from Dan Berrett, education reporter, Pocono Record:

I’m interested in what you call the “web of support” -- the familial, communal and school-based resources that help students make the transition to college. What role do you see high school guidance counselors playing in that web? And how does that role change when we’re considering students who come from families and communities with low levels of college attainment?

Nancy Hoffman:

First, most urban high school guidance counselors are over worked and are responsible for far too many students; in one city where I worked, the ratio was 500 students to one counselor. That said, stories abound of guidance counselors deciding “for” a student whether she or he is so called “college material.” The advice often maps to class and educational background of the family. The appropriate role for a guidance counselor is to be ralistic with students about college requirements, but to be exceedingly careful to encourage those who might explore the college option, for reasons of fear, lack of confidence, or inadequate knowledge of funding sources. IN the early college high schools for which Jobs for the Future, my organization, is the national partner, every adult in the school reinforces the message that all students should prepare for college. The guidance counselor should not be left this task on her own.

Question from Evelyn J. Rosa, Assistant Director, Middlesex County College:

Do you have specific stratagies for engaging new immigrant (non English speaking parents)to support this initiative? Did you use young college students as peer mentor volunteers and what were the challenges posed with this approach?

Joel Vargas:

This is an important issue. We know of early college high schools that are doing this well. For example, some go out into the community to recruit their students (local churches, CBO’s): that is, they go where these parents are. One of the attractive features of early college high schools is that they make college a tangible and immediate reality for students and families: no need to cut through the red tape of admissions forms or financial aid forms which so often place these families at a disadvantage in the college admissions process. These aspects of programs and schools that integrate grades 9-14 should be emphasized with parents. There are many schools that have college partners that are supplying mentors to the high school students, and this seems like a very good approach. The main challenge that I see is in training the mentors well so that they are clear about their roles and know how to seek help when needed. Good mentors have good support, training, and clear roles .

Question from Beverly E. Davis, Regional Program Manager for Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers:

I think that high school faculty members understand the vital importance of integrating college into the high schools. However, the problem seem to exist today regarding funding such programs. Where will funding come from to support this objective?

Nancy Hoffman:

This is a good question:; in the 45 or so states that have dual enrollment legislation and programs, state dollars usually pay for high school students to take college courses. Some states provide scholarships for this purpose to students who are low income. Some states subtract dollars from the high school per pupil allotment to pay for tuition. This is a disincentive to particpate, so Jobs for the Future, our organization, does not argue for it. Rather we argue that providing funding for students to accelerate without “harming” either the high school or the college will provide a good return on the investment in future earnings for the student with a degree, tax dollars for the state, and in social costs avoided.

Question from Olga Colón Assistant to the Secretary, DE:

How can we consider this “a goal for all students”, are post-secondary institutions prepared for this? How can secondary schools prepare? Who’s the link between them?

Nancy Hoffman:

In our book, Minding the Gap:Why Integrating Hgh School with College Makes Sense and How to Do it.we present evidence that a good number of students-- perhaps 20% in some states-- are already taking college courses while in high school. Texas has just passed legislation enabling all qualified high school students to take 12 credits of college work while in high school. While there would certainly be a problem of “seats” in postsecondary if all students participate, that would be a GOOD problem, one that the country would want to solve as opposed to having to pay for remediation and drop out prevention. One book that you might want to read is College Knowledge by David Conley. It lays our the kind of preparation that all students need, and a number of schools affiliated with our organization, Jobs for the Future, have implemented Conley’s designs. The linkage is a challenge, I agree. In some schools there is a high school/ college liaison position who makes sure that students, credits and dolalrs move effectively from sector to sector.

Question from Margaret Mahon NYC HS Math teacher Wadleigh HS:

To involve High school curriculum with college programs, how do you plan to have HS and college teachers confer?

Nancy Hoffman:

That’s a great question: we have a long history of disappointment and divorce between teachers and professors. Partnerships are very hard to maintain. In early college high schools (see, the initiative in which Jobs for the Future, my organization, is the national partner, teachers and professors co-plan the curriculum in many cases. An organization called National Association of Concurrent Enrollment Programs, NACEP, requires that the high school teacher use the college syllabus and that the professor visit the teacher’s classes. This provides excellent professional development on both sides. You might want to read a chapter in our book on dual enrollment: we argue that when students, credits and dollars change hands, the postsecondary institution has responsibility to ensure quality so it is more likely that the sectors will interact.

Question from Valerie Wilk, Higher Education Coordinator, NEA:

In your article, you mention P-16 or P-20 commissions operating in the states. Could you say more about their work, e.g., what programs or how are they facilitating the collaboration between K-12 and postsecondary institutions?

Nancy Hoffman:

Well, this will sound like an advertisement for our book, Minding the Gap. You mgiht read two chapters about K-16, Common Ground by Andrea Venezia et al, and the History of the Separation of K-123 and Postsecondary Educaiton by Kirst and Usdan. In genreal, PK-16 councils have had a pretty rocky history in the 20 or so years that they have been around. Some are very effective-- and in general I would say the success depends on leadership from the governor and commissioners. In Rhode Island, for example, the governor chairs the council and has used it to promote dual enrollment, to promote STEM development, and most importantly, to build a system of performance standards that move from k-12 to postsecondary education in a coordinated fashion. Florida has the most developed K-16 system in that their data system crosses from k through higher education, their courses have common numbers, and a regular working group problem solves to ensure that students can accelerate without impediment from hgih school into postsecondary. Some states have regional PK-16 councils. We beleive that this is a promising way to ensure better articulation across sectors but there is much work to be done on the governance, accountability, and finanance sides to make a K-16 system permanent.

Question from Doug Shaw, Professor, University of Northern Iowa:

What do you think are the pros and cons of “AP-fever” - the pressure on high schools to provide many AP courses and students to take them?

Joel Vargas:

The idea that students should do be prepared to do college-level work in high school is a good one, and AP is the oldest example. In the best of circumstances, it can help to raise the rigor of the high school curriculum and better align it with postsecondary expectations. Another positive is that it has external validation of standards in the AP exam. The flip side is that this means earning college credit is determined by one, high-stakes exam. Jobs for the Future is more interested in dual enrollment, dual credit, and early college high schools as a way to achieve similar goals as AP in terms of aligning high school and college expectations. For one thing, earning credit is based on multiple assessments, not a single test. Also, these classes can give high school students the chance to experience college and acclimate to college expectations. They get to rehearse being a college student, if you will, but with the support of their high schools. In our book, Mike Nakkula at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Karen Foster show how students in early college high schools experience a positive shift in the development of their academic identities because of their attendance in these schools.

Question from Timothy Nevels, Co-Founder, Onyx House, In.c:

Can these policies be implented to the inner city youth with little cost to cities?

Nancy Hoffman:

Yes to the first question and “it depends” to the second. It depends because there are a variety of ways to think about cost. Pay early and you’ll save later is the best way to think about investing in integrated systems that allow young people to accelerate and succeed. If you use dual enrollment as an “on ramp” to college, you may motivate more students to complete a postsecondary credential. Then the state gets an educated worker, a tax payer, and someone who is leess likely to incur social costs. But that’s not how most cities are able to think-- so the way many of the programs and schools in our network are funded is by combining high school ADA and the state allocation per student for higher education. You might read the chapter in Minding the Gap by Bob Palaich on Return on Investment.

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):

That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks so much to our guests, Nancy Hoffman and Joel Vargas, and thanks, as well, to our readers for submitting so many thoughtful questions. Minding the Gap: Why Integrating High School with College Makes Sense and How to Do It is available from Harvard Education Press. The transcript of this chat will be available on shortly.

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