One Size Doesn’t Fit All in College Enrollment

Whether by design or not, Chalkbeat recently published two complementary articles on efforts to affect college attendance rates among high school students, one detailing a nationwide approaches that didn’t work, the other focusing on a program at a school right here in Colorado that did.

In the first case, organizations such as the College Board experimented with low-cost initiatives designed to encourage above-average achievement students, particularly from low-income settings, to pursue the postsecondary educational opportunities that they’d qualified for. The College Board program consisted of several different approaches that included the sending of information on colleges in order to “provide an impetus to start the college search process, minimize the costs of aggregating data, and encourage a broader college application portfolio.” Some students received this information via mail, some by email, other by text message. For some students the College Board even provided waivers to cover the cost of application fees and SAT score mailing.

As a Brown University study found, the program resulted in only minor changes to existing college enrollment patterns. The Chalkbeat piece also identifies several additional studies that attempted to use similar cost and effort effective nudges to encourage high-achieving, low-income students to enroll in colleges, all of which produced very minor or negligible outcomes.

Meanwhile, the Colorado-related article centered around Harrison High School in Colorado Springs, and more specifically its AVID program, a non-profit guided but school-based college readiness initiative that aims to help students build the skills they need for continued educational success beyond high school. The program aims to impact, among others, low-income students and those who stand to become first generation college attendees, by providing them with focused “academic, social, and emotional support that will help them succeed in their school’s most rigorous courses.”

According to Harrison High School administrators, the program’s effects at their school have been encouraging, with rising graduation and matriculation rates in addition to AVID participants’ having earned a disproportionate share of their graduating class’ total sum of scholarship funds.

The two pieces of evidence go hand-in-hand to demonstrate what should already be a rather sensible assumption: that one size fits all solutions to education issues are generally of far less actual value than those that address dilemmas at the lowest possible level—that of students—in order to tackle not only the challenges that arise out of the specific conditions of distinct schools and communities, but which also tie into the unique situations and backgrounds of students