Creating Equitable College-Going Cultures in High Schools

Last year, the National College Access Network (NCAN), Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California, Boston Public Schools, and ICF Macro collaborated on NCAN’s Student Success Toolkit Demonstration Project, piloting CUE’s Equity Scorecard™ in two Boston high schools. Their report released last fall, Using Data and Inquiry to Build Equity-Focused College-Going Cultures, describes their action research project in the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH) and East Boston High School (EBHS), two very different high schools that volunteered to pilot the Equity Scorecard™ and be studied in the process. In addition to the report, participants in the pilot took part in a recent Webinar, co-hosted with the American Youth Policy Forum, to describe insights gained from the pilot project.  Insights ranged from lessons the school personnel learned about themselves and their schools to the challenges they faced in creating equitable access to the recommendations and conclusions that came out of the study. The efforts of these research and advocacy organizations have yielded several important insights for high schools.  The collaborating organizations expressed concern that, “As a nation, we are still far from achieving the goal of closing the racial divides that so strongly characterize educational institutions and systems in the United States. In principle, we have a higher education system that offers access, affordability, choice, and mobility for all students, regardless of their race or wealth. But national, state, and local data all portray racially segregated college pathways.”[1]  Their project was designed to increase college-going cultures in high schools as a strategy for reducing racial equity gaps in higher education. The report points to researchers[2] who define a college-going culture as having four characteristics:

  1. Rigorous academic curriculum and programs;
  2. Clear college-going mission and expectations;
  3. Comprehensive college information and resource services; and
  4. Coordinated and systemic college support.

However, they also point out that without explicit attention paid to racial equity, a model college-going culture does not necessarily ensure that gaps in access are overcome. Thus, they developed the action research project as a way to develop tools and processes for schools to achieve the goals of racial equity within college-going cultures.

[1] Jones, T., Bensimon, E.M., McNair, T.B., & Dowd, A. C. (2011). Using data and inquiry to build equity-focused college-going cultures. Washington, DC: National College Access Network, p. 6.  Accessed at ( goes directly to the report).
[2] Jones, T. et al (see footnote 1) cite the following research on page 16: Corwin, Z.B. & Tierney, W.G. (2007). Getting there – and beyond: Building a culture of college-going in high schools. Los Angeles, CA: Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis; McDonough, P.M. (1998). “Structuring college opportunities: A cross-case analysis or organizational cultures, climates, and habits.” In C.A. Torres & T.R. Mitchell (Eds.), Sociology of education: Emerging perspectives (pp. 181-210). Albany: SUNY Press.; & Oakes, J. (2002). Critical conditions for equity and diversity in college access: Informing policy and monitoring results. Los Angeles: University of California at Los Angeles.

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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