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College Readiness

Being unprepared to meet certain expectations is not the same as being unable to meet them.
Rebecca D. Cox

By now, a disturbing and persistent problem in higher education has been thoroughly documented: while overall enrollment has steadily increased, access far outdistances the critical measure—degree completion. As Rebecca D. Cox observes in The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another, only "slightly above half" of the students seeking either an associate's or a bachelor's degree graduate within ten years, and the rates of degree completion are lowest for students from historically underrepresented groups.

Vincent Tinto analyzes what needs to be done in his new book, Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action, and offers this blunt appraisal of the current state of affairs: "access without support is not opportunity." A longstanding advocate of learning in community, he recommends a number of institutional actions—from aligning academic support with first-year courses to investing in faculty development. Learning community programs done well embrace many of the recommendations Tinto makes.

The most productive conversations on college readiness adopt a campus-wide perspective and focus on how a campus community can become better prepared to educate today's students. They also are aware of the argument David T. Conley makes in Redefining College Readiness that even the most successful high school students are not prepared for the radically different cultural expectations and cognitive demands of college. How would they know about the value placed on intellectual curiosity, the conventions associated with the "culture" of academia (habits of thinking, writing, speaking, and acting), and the expectation that they need to use campus student support services?

For first generation college students whose family members cannot serve as their coaches, advisors, and essay editors, the adjustment from high school to college is extraordinarily challenging. Rashné Rustom Jehangir, in Higher Education and First Year Students: Cultivating Community, Voice, and Place for the New Majority, uses the expression "strangers without code books" to describe first generation, low-income students' experiences of isolation and marginalization in higher education and the implicit message—"welcome to college: come be like us." Her discussion of how learning communities and multicultural pedagogies can make a difference is a critical piece of the college readiness conversation.

We invite faculty and staff teaching in learning communities and in first-year classes to use Washington Center's heuristic on designing integrative assignments to teach explicitly for the hidden expectations associated with college readiness.


Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action
Vincent Tinto. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 2012.

Higher Education and First-Generation Students: Cultivating Community, Voice, and Place for the New Majority
Rashné Rustom Jehangir. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. 2010.

Integrative Learning Heuristic
Washington Center. 2012.

Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education
David N. Perkins. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2009.

The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another
Rebecca D. Cox. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009.

Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us
Mike Rose. New York, NY: The New Press. 2009.

Curricular Learning Communities and Unprepared Students: How Faculty Can Provide a Foundation for Success
Cathy McHugh Engstrom. Chapter 1 in The Role of the Classroom in College Student Persistence: New Directions for Teaching and Learning 115. John M. Braxton, editor. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. October 2008.

Aligned Expectations? A Closer Look at College Admissions and Placement Tests
Achieve, Inc. 2007.

Redefining College Readiness
David T. Conley. Eugene, OR: Educational Policy Improvement Center. Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. March 2007

The Teaching for Understanding Guide
Tina Blythe and Associates. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2007.

Learning Communites and Curricular Reform: "Academic Apprenticeships" for Developmental Students
Gillies Malnarich. Chapter 5 in New Directions for Community Colleges, No. 129. Carol A. Kozeracki, editor. Spring 2005.

The Pedagogy of Possibilities: Developmental Education, College-Level Studies, and Learning Communities
Gillies Malnarich, with others. National Learning Communities Project monograph series. 2003.

Greater Expectations: A New Vision of Learning as a Nation Goes to College
Association of American Colleges & Universities. 2002.

Complete list of resources