College & Workforce Readiness

States Use College-Awareness Programs to Boost College-Going

By Catherine Gewertz — February 19, 2016 2 min read
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Creating academic standards that ensure college- and career-readiness has been a huge topic in recent years. But what would happen if states put a stronger emphasis on ensuring that students are educated about their college and work options?

That’s the question posed in a brief issued Thursday by the National Association for State Boards of Education. It highlights the work of Washington state and Idaho, which have sought to put their money where their policies are, and bolster college- and career-awareness among adolescent students.

“State boards are in a powerful position to augment their states’ college readiness standards with college awareness initiatives,” author Sarah-Jane Lorenzo writes in the brief. "... while not every student must attend college to attain postsecondary success, every student needs to set postsecondary goals.”

Washington took the unusual step of writing “college awareness standards” to express its goals for what students need to learn about their postsecondary options. Lorenzo argues that adopting college-awareness standards is more likely than some other widely embraced strategies—such as partnering with higher education or hiring more guidance counselors—to ensure that students know what they need to know about their postsecondary options.

Washington state’s board of education approved a program that requires students to start setting postsecondary goals in 8th grade, and keep developing those goals into plans, in collaboration with faculty and their families, as they progress through school.

Students can shape their plans as they wish, but the state suggests that they identify a career goal and research the postsecondary programs that can help them get there, along with those programs’ admissions and financial-aid requirements. Students are encouraged to put real-life twists into their plans, such as job-shadowing or college visits, and to develop practical skills, such as knowing how to develop a budget.

Idaho approved a policy, called Direct Admissions, that ensures that all high school seniors will be accepted at its state colleges, universities or technical schools. This year, those systems admitted all 20,171 of the state’s senior class, Lorenzo writes. Idaho is pairing that initiative with others designed to boost awareness of college, and to spur students to apply.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.

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