By Meredith B.L. Anderson, Ph.D., and Zakyia Goins-McCants, MS. Ed. Meredith Anderson is a Senior Research Associate at UNCF and Zakyia Goins-McCants is a Leadership for Education Equity (LEE) Summer Fellow.

It’s the start of the school year. Classrooms have been meticulously decorated, lesson plans and schedules are intact, professional development has likely come to an end, and the buzz of students fills the halls. In the midst of all of this, it’s important to consider how you as teachers, leaders, or administrators will create a college-going culture and engage students and families around college readiness. Yes, this can be a daunting task amidst various competing priorities; however, with adequate planning and partnerships you can create an environment that sets high expectations for all students and truly values postsecondary opportunities. Here are 4 strategies that can help you in these endeavors this school year.

Invest in School Counselors. One of the key drivers of college and career readiness initiatives in a school is the school counselor; yet, far too often they are undervalued. In fact, the national student-to-counselor ratio is 464-to-1, with some states reaching a 903-to-1 ratio; but, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), recommends a more manageable ratio of 250-to-1. Why? Because we know their presence matters in schools. Research shows that school counselors help increase graduation rates, college applications, and college enrollments -- and close opportunity gaps. School counselors partner with students, families, student service professionals, and colleges to provide beneficial information on postsecondary options. Create a climate this school year that truly values school counselors and allows them the time and resources to effectively implement a successful college readiness strategy for all students in the building.

Create a College Readiness Culture.  Another way you can invest in students’ success and future is by developing an atmosphere that supports college and career readiness. Your schools can do this in a number of ways, even at the elementary level. For instance, Uncommon Schools, an urban charter school network, names each classroom after a college. Your school or district could also create information sessions on various aspects of the college application process like essay writing or financial aid. You can even use interactive tools that show the monetary value of a college degree. Consider creating a college resource center within the counseling office that houses valuable tools on college and career readiness, college fairs and tours. Additionally, take the time to celebrate student success! As you may know, Former First Lady Michelle Obama created an annual “College Signing Day” to promote excitement and engagement around higher education that has been gaining momentum the past few years. Your school can participate and host these events to celebrate students admitted to college by using the tools provided by Michelle Obama’s non-profit, Reach Higher.

Offer a Range of Challenging Courses Tied to High-Quality Curriculum. It's important to allow access to challenging coursework for all students. It’s vitally imperative that even the entry-level and remedial courses offered at your school are rigorous, especially for students who are behind. For example, make sure that students who are getting extra support in English language arts/literacy read the same texts as their peers. It’s also important to make efforts to mitigate the need for remediation in college as more and more students are enrolling in these courses every year. Serious attention needs to be paid to the rigor of individual classes, and not in a punitive manner that blames teachers. Preparing all students for college requires strong academic standards, a high-quality curriculum, and professional learning that supports teachers. High-quality instructional materials and support should be available to every teacher, and students and families need to be made aware of progress and areas for improvement.

Be Transparent with Data and Give Feedback. Data-driven instruction is not a new concept; however, many high school students and their families do not have access to the same data as teachers, and if they do, they often don’t understand what it means. High schools need to use more than just online 24/7 access to teacher grade books. They need to know how their students are performing. Most elementary schools are great at letting parents know what reading level a child is on, or how they're progressing in math, but by the time students get to high school, some parents don’t get much more information than students’ grades. Many teachers have data walls in their classes and use formative and summative assessments, but are school leaders 100 percent sure that students understand what their mastery means in terms of what they can do? Are the mastery levels based on real standards and metrics, not an arbitrary number? And for your students who are behind, do they know by how much and what it’s going to take for them to catch up? Give students their feedback reports from pre-college admissions tests such as the Pre-ACT or PSAT and explain them. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t focus so much on the end-of-year test that you miss out on formative opportunities to check students’ understanding and help guide them in the right direction. Schools get tons of data about students. Find ways to make that data useful and meaningful to students and families.

Building Better Futures for All Students

We hope the tips provided will help you place college and career readiness at the forefront of the upcoming school year. Be sure to check out for more resources and information throughout this process. Our K-12 Advocacy division was established to help give rise to a college-going culture where all parents and communities are knowledgeable about the college-going process. We want to help your schools and communities build better futures for students and we are actively partnering with various stakeholders to improve educational outcomes along the P-20 pipeline not only for African Americans, but for all students, because we know that when schools and students flourish, communities flourish as well. Here’s to a great school year!


Dr. Meredith Anderson is a Senior Research Associate in the K-12 Advocacy Department and Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at UNCF where she designs empirical research related to K-12 education reform for African American students.  Her most recent publications are: “A Seat at the Table: African American Youth's Perceptions of K-12 Education”, “Lift Every Voice and Lead: African American Leaders Perspectives of K-12 Education Reform”, “The Lift Every Voice and Lead Toolkit: A Community Leader's Advocacy Resource for K-12 Education”, and “Building Better Narratives in Black Education”. Meredith is also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University. 

Zakyia Goins-McCants is an alum of Howard University and Johns Hopkins University. Her research interests include teacher training, “To and Through College Initiatives” and restorative practices in schools. She currently serves in Prince Georges County Public Schools and is an Administration and Supervision graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.