Building a College Going Culture in High School

In the Building a College Going Culture: Beyond Banners Webinar, organized by the School Turnaround Learning Community and held on May 21st , David Conley, University of Oregon professor of educational policy and leadership and the CEO of the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), and Ricci Hall, principal of University Park Campus School, discussed the dimensions of college readiness and how schools can play a vital role in making students college ready.

Dr. Conley spoke of the need for a nuanced approach to measuring college readiness that focuses more on the importance of effort and teaching students key learning techniques and less on aptitude. In his framework, he discussed college and career readiness (CCR) principles that compliment the four dimensions students need in order to be college and career ready. The four dimensions are built around the idea that students should be able to “think, know, act and go,” and include cognitive strategies (problem solving, inquisitiveness, precision/accuracy, interpretation, reasoning, research, and intellectual openness), content knowledge (writing and algebraic concepts and key content knowledge from core subjects), academic behaviors (self-monitoring and studying skills) and contextual skills and awareness (“college knowledge,” which includes awareness of the college admissions processes, culture, college-level academic expectations and tuition and financial aid).

Alignment of skills, interests, aspirations and postsecondary objectives, so that students can have a variety of different abilities and not be all held to a single standard, is crucial. To achieve this, Conley spoke of a need to create a foundational level that all students must reach, where profiles of knowledge and skills are built on so that students can be lifelong learners and adaptive citizens. By doing this, he feels there will be fewer students that drop out as they move through the education system.

Conley further discussed the need for greater structures to be put in place so that large decisions in the academic lives of students do not hinge on happenstance. Simple mistakes on course selection in high school, misinformation or missing registration deadlines should not be possibilities for students. He discusses a need to change college admission criteria so that students must not only meet eligibility requirements—i.e. having a certain GPA, number of units and volunteer hours—but also demonstrate that they have the skills to successfully attain their goals without remediation.

Principal Hall discussed the positive impact Conley’s CCR framework made in his high school. Through embedding CCR skills and working collaboratively with Clark University, all University Park Campus School (UPCS) students enrolled in college (all first generation college students) and passed the state high school graduation exam on their first try, predominately scoring proficient or advanced. Additionally, when entering college, less than 10 percent of UPSC students took remedial classes, which he also attributed to putting the framework into practice. UPCS has demonstrated how imperative it is for schools to stress the need for CCR skills.

To learn more about college and career readiness, please join the National High School Center for a series of Webinars in June on college and career readiness. Nationally-recognized experts and practitioners in the field of college and career readiness will discuss defining and actualizing college and career readiness for all students. David Conley was a featured speaker at the National High School Center’s recent college and career readiness symposium; to learn more, visit

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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