Giving Compass’ Take:
• MDRC shares strategies for helping low-income rural students overcome the barriers they face and succeed in college.
• What forms of support would most benefit these students? How can technology be used to increase access to readiness programs at scale?
• Learn more about the rural higher-education epidemic.
In the United States today, more jobs than ever before require at least some postsecondary education. Yet too many young adults are either not enrolling or not succeeding in college. This scenario exists across many different types of communities, but schools in rural areas, particularly those with large populations of low-income students, face unique challenges in preparing and inspiring students to attend college.
To address these challenges, the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Center — a nonprofit organization working to close the achievement gap for minority and low-income students — partnered with three rural school districts and the local state college in central Florida to develop and implement programming focused on strengthening college preparedness among middle school and high school students.
Supported by funds from an Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the partners worked together to implement the AVID College Readiness System (ACRS) across eight schools, train secondary and postsecondary instructors in a shared set of teaching strategies and best practices, strengthen the academic rigor of their classes, and develop a set of “alignment activities” for school staff members focused on collaboration and consistency of teaching and study strategies across middle school, high school, and college.
The report presents several key findings:
- Overall, analyses show that the ACRS was implemented successfully at most schools with fairly high fidelity to the model. There was mixed success implementing the alignment activities.
- Positive change was seen in teachers’ reported use of most ACRS teaching strategies, and in teachers’ and other staff members’ reported attitudes toward academic rigor and college preparation for all students and reported collaboration within and across grade levels and schools.
- Little difference was found between the reported study habits and learning skills, engagement in school, and postsecondary expectations of students surveyed before implementation and of those surveyed after three years of exposure; however, on average, both groups had relatively high positive responses on most of the measures.
- Students were more likely to take advanced courses, such as honors and Advanced Placement, and earned more credits in these courses, which are intended to strengthen their preparation for the rigor of college work.
- Little difference in other measures of students’ academic performance (grade point average and English Language Arts standardized tests), educational attainment (overall credits earned and graduation), and high school persistence were found after three years of implementation compared with the outcomes before implementation.
Postsecondary credentials have become almost essential to successfully compete in the U.S. labor market, where technical and critical thinking skills are much prized. But many young adults, especially from low-income families, are not acquiring these credentials — in part because many high school graduates across the United States are inadequately prepared for college-level coursework. In addition, too often, low expectations for students in middle school, high school, and college leave some students struggling to succeed. Rural communities face particular challenges in ensuring college readiness and success for students. Given the distance from urban centers, geographic size, and low population density in these communities, colleges there often have trouble attracting and retaining skilled teachers and have less opportunity for collaboration across institutions.