The College Puzzle Blog
Prior PostingsAbout
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.

Incentives and Signals Can Improve College Success

We need to reformulate the college access issue to focus more on “access to preparation and success,” rather than the more traditional issue of access to a slot in postsecondary education.Student incentives and signals to students are important concepts to increase college completion.

Examples of incentives could be admission policies that reward students for completing numerous college preparation courses, or teacher professional development that helps increase the probability of students meeting college placement test standards. Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are important components of motivating prospective college student behavior.

Signaling theory suggests that streamlined and aligned high quality and appropriate content messages have a positive impact on students’ learning and achievement, and that mixed and conflicting signals—the current state of affairs—have the opposite effect. School site educators, including but not limited to counselors, can be purveyors of information (e.g. signals) about what students need to know and be able to do in order to succeed at postsecondary education. Many secondary school teachers play a large role in providing signals, especially for high achieving students, but teachers do not know much about college placement exams at non selective colleges. Moreover, students get clearer signals if colleges communicate more about placement tests and not just how easy it is to get into their college. For more put "the bridge project" in Google and go to publications.

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