Gretchen Guffy is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Yesterday kicked of the Education Trust’s annual conference, “Leave Nothing to Chance: Closing Gaps and Raising Achievement.” The conference opened with the performance of Catalyst, a docudrama about two students with similar backgrounds but very different school experiences, after which Education Trust president Kati Haycock urged conference participants to do whatever it takes to ensure all students achieve at high levels.

The first session I attended, “Clicking Toward College Diplomas: Web Tools for Student Success,” focused on what California State University (CSU) is doing to empower students to graduate from college. Jeff Gould, director of academic technology at CSU, points out that while 90 percent of students plan to go to college, only 35 percent actually earn a diploma. He thinks that one of the reasons students may end up not completing college is because they enter not understanding the potential consequence of some seemingly benign decisions, like enrolling part-time (enrolling part-time can do more than delay graduation – it actually significantly reduces one’s chances of graduating at all).

CSU provides students with an online tool to help them map out the college choices that will give them the best shot at graduating from college. The tool asks students four questions (leading indicators): whether they’re ready for college-level math and/or reading, whether they will enroll in general education math and English courses immediately, whether they will enroll in a “first-year experience” course, and whether they will take a full course load.   

The tool obviously isn’t a quick fix to get students through college, but it does give students a framework for understanding the factors that affect their chances of graduating with a degree. And clearly understanding what getting a degree will take is the first step in achieving one.


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