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Promising Directions for K-12 and Community College Partnerships

My colleague Derek Wu recently wrote about dual enrollment programs and the promise they hold for improving outcomes, especially for underserved students. These programs, which allow students to earn college credits while still enrolled in high school, are just one of many forms that partnerships between K-12 systems and postsecondary institutions can take. Two and four-year postsecondary institutions across the nation have created partnerships with local K-12 districts, sharing resources, aligning curricula, and coordinating support services in order to increase high school graduation, college-readiness, and college-enrollment in their regions.

Because of their local focus, long history of partnerships, and tendency to enroll large shares of typically underserved students, community colleges have created particularly effective and innovative partnerships with K-12 schools in their service areas. These mutually beneficial partnerships usually encompass multiple initiatives that can range from curriculum alignment efforts to extended career pathways, data-sharing agreements, and summer bridge programs. Some institutions, such as Central Carolina Community College  and Lone Star Community College have embedded advisors at partner high schools to provide students with information about college enrollment and financial aid. In an effort to decrease remediation rates and prepare more students for college-level courses, El Paso Community College has implemented early assessment programs that allow students and their advisors to identify and address skill deficiencies before a student enters college. Programs can be broad-based or targeted towards particular student populations, and often exist amongst a constellation of other initiatives aimed at creating a “college-going culture” at partner high schools.

In a recent trip to Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, we heard about some of the ways that Valencia’s Osceola County campus has leveraged a partnership with the county’s school district and a local community foundation. Prompted by a 41.3% college-going rate that ranked Osceola county 57th out of 67 counties in Florida, the “Got College?” initiative, started in 2012, aims to boost college-going rates by convincing more high school students that a postsecondary credential is both accessible and affordable. “Got College?” coordinates Valencia campus tours; proactively provides resources on enrollment, degrees, and financial aid; provides transition coaches to high school students; and in an effort to incentivize enrollment, allows incoming freshman who have completed their applications to take one class in their first semester at no cost.

The “Got College” initiative—like most postsecondary and K-12 partnerships– is more than just a portfolio of programs. At its core is a collaboration between partners that have taken ownership of low postsecondary enrollment rates and committed to understanding the best ways to solve this problem. Many of Got College’s programs have been generated through community-based discussions that include parents and faculty in the region. While it would be easy to be confronted with data like Osceola County’s and try to assign blame and responsibility, both Valencia College and the school district have used this data to inform and prepare more Osceola students for postsecondary education.

It is too early to measure “Got College’s?” impact, and, unfortunately, few rigorous experimental studies have been conducted to evaluate such partnerships between K-12 districts and colleges. However we do know that more first generation students who plan to enroll in college are unprepared, that low-income students are more likely to apply to and enroll in college when provided with admissions, enrollment and financial aid information, and that developmental education continues to present a huge stumbling block for student persistence in postsecondary education. As postsecondary institutions manage these issues, research that examines how they can effectively partner with K-12 systems and studies that evaluate the impact of these partnerships will be crucial.

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