The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

A Prescription for More College-Ready Students: The 2nd in a Series

My research with other colleagues shows that states must create reforms in four key policy areas as well as connect elementary and secondary education with postsecondary education across them all: curricula and assessment, finance, data collection, and the public reporting of student progress and success.

Governance mechanisms must reinforce and sustain those efforts (see publications 19 and 20). Specifically, state governments can make substantial gains toward improving college readiness and completion if they:

I discussed the first of the four (curricula and assessment) key policy areas in my last post. This post will discuss finance.

Provide incentives in state budgets for increasing the proportion of students who complete high school and enroll in college. Most state systems perpetuate the divide between K–12 and higher education by creating separate, aggregated, streams of financial support for each sector. State budgets lack any incentives to promote college-readiness reforms. For example, states could offer financial incentives to both systems to offer dual enrollment or to reduce remediation.

While no state has fully established an integrated K–16 finance model, Oregon may be moving in that direction. The Oregon Business Council analyzed state expenditures in 2002–03 for both schools and colleges as though they came from one budget, and found that the per student level of investment varied by grade and degree—with community colleges receiving the least state aid and K–12 special education receiving the most. It recommended to the governor that Oregon reform its system so that, among other things, budgets would explicitly decide the level of support per student for different services and the measurable outcomes anticipated. The governor of Oregon and a joint board that includes members from both the state board of education and the board of higher education have called for the establishment of a unified education system with curriculum alignment and a budget that connects all sectors. More states should follow a similar path.

State financial aid, a traditional means for broadening access to college, can also be used to leverage college-readiness reforms. Indiana’s Twenty-first Century Scholars Program is an excellent model for how a state can both broaden access to college and improve college readiness. The Scholars Program promises the future payment of college tuition for middle school students who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. It targets low-income students in the 8th grade and requires each participating student to complete a pledge to finish high school, maintain at least a C average, remain drug- and alcohol-free, apply for college and financial aid, and enroll in an Indiana postsecondary institution within two years of completing high school. In return, Indiana (1) encourages the Scholars to pursue a college preparatory curriculum; (2) provides support services for them and for those who fulfill the pledge; and (3) pays their tuition and fees (after other financial aid awards) at a public institution in Indiana or contributes a similar portion for tuition at an independent college. The program pays for 80% of the approved tuition and fees for students completing a regular high school diploma; 90% of tuition and fees for students completing a more rigorous high school diploma, called a Core 40 diploma; and 100% of tuition and fees for students completing the most rigorous diploma, the Academic Honors Diploma.

Through these incentives, the program sends clear signals to students regarding academic preparation for college. And the results are encouraging. In 1992, Indiana was 34th in the nation in terms of the percent of high school graduates that enrolled in college immediately after graduation; in 2002, it was 10th.

In the next post, I will discuss DATA COLLECTION.

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