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#AskExcelinEd: How can states accelerate students from high school to college and careers?

• Lowell Matthews

Last month was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission to land on the moon—a mission that became known as “a successful failure.” As you may remember, the mission failed when an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks caused a series of cascading problems that threatened the safety of the astronauts. NASA had to reinvent procedures and rethink and use of parts beyond their original purpose, all in a pressure-filled time period and while astronauts faced rapidly deteriorating conditions in space. This successful failure became a case study in ingenuity.

Similarly, COVID-19 represents an explosion of sorts in our education system. The crisis has affected the way schools, teachers, parents and students interact and learn. This is especially acute for high school students who will shortly enter a world of financially troubled colleges and universities and a workforce with few or no jobs. As families struggle with job security or job loss, the prospect of affording postsecondary education is daunting.

Parents and students will need to take advantage of opportunities in high school to prepare for college-level expectations and to earn valuable college credit. The earned credit from opportunities like Advanced Placement, Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education, College Level Examination Program, dual credit, early college high school and International Baccalaureate could reduce time to a postsecondary credential for students and make college more affordable for families. To many students, these opportunities are out of reach or do not clearly fit into their career interests and pathways. But now every credit and learning opportunity must count—more than ever before.

As governors and state leaders look to shore up learning through funding provided under the federal CARES Act for All Americans, they should resist the temptation to merely plug additional fingers into the holes in the education dike. Instead, leaders need to consider addressing the core issues—quality, equity, access and sustainable funding—that turn these college acceleration opportunities into valuable knowledge, skills and college credits for our students.

The commonsense solutions, entitled “non-negotiables” below, will go a long way to making every learning opportunity and credit in advanced coursework count. For more on these non-negotiables, check our new playbook for policymakers Accelerating Students from High School to College and Careers.

High-Quality College Acceleration Opportunities: Non-Negotiables for State Policymakers

Quality and Value

  • Data Collection and Analysis: States collect, analyze and publicly report student outcome data on college acceleration opportunities and use the data to strengthen access, quality and student success.
  • Input Reviews: Postsecondary institutions, K-12 and providers regularly review the standards, instructional materials, educator qualifications, exams, student outcome data and vertical linkages of offerings to ensure quality.
  • Consistent Guidelines: States adopt consistent credit acceptance and transfer guidelines across K-12 and postsecondary institutions to ensure quality opportunities that offer students valuable credit.
  • Defined and Articulated Pathways: States ensure opportunities are part of a clearly defined and articulated pathway to a postsecondary credential.

Equity and Access

  • Plurality of Student Options: School districts offer a plurality of opportunities in all high schools to ensure students can select opportunities that align with their chosen career pathways.
  • Student Cost: States ensure that opportunities are available for little or no cost to the student.
  • Multiple Measures for Student Eligibility: Postsecondary institutions and schools use multiple measures of student eligibility to allow students to enroll in opportunities, especially low-income and traditionally underrepresented students.

Educators and Advisors

  • Educator Training: States and school districts ensure that educators in all schools receive appropriate training to teach college acceleration courses.
  • Student Advisement: Schools notify students in all schools of available opportunities and use state indicators to identify low-income and traditionally underrepresented students with the potential to succeed in college acceleration opportunities.

Schools notify students and their parents of the credit transferability for each college acceleration option before students enroll.

About the author

Lowell Matthews

Lowell is the Director of College and Career Pathways for ExcelinEd. He previously served as Staff Director for the Florida Legislature’s Senate Committees on Education Pre-K-12 and Higher Education, where he helped create Florida’s industry certification incentive to create a nexus between education and the workforce. Lowell is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University Law School. He also served in the U.S. Army. He lives in Rochester, MN with his wife and two kids.