New research is calling for a new definition of what it means to be college-ready, like these graduates walking in graduation caps.

Redefining what it means to be ‘college-ready’

According to research and the 2018 National Superintendent of the Year, preparing students for the future is more about creating a personalized pathway than teaching to a test

Societal pressures on high school seniors seemingly grow by the year. These days, a student’s level of college and workforce readiness is said to be dependent on their college admission test scores, completing the most rigorous high school classes possible, and obtaining AP credit. But research shows that these are not the sole indicators.

ACT recently released a report that claims only 26 percent of 2018 high school graduates were ready for the workforce, but I believe readiness is dictated by so much more than a standardized test score.

Related content: 4 keys to supporting college and career readiness

For example, research from the University of California Berkeley found that high school GPA is the best indicator of grades during freshman year in college as well as college graduation. Of course, I don’t presume that everyone should go to college.

Being college-ready vs. post-secondary-ready

When educators say they want students to be “college-ready,” it’s easy to assume we mean a four-year degree. What we really mean is “post-secondary ready.” If an individual wants to earn a family-supporting wage over the course of their work lifetime, they need access to some form of post-secondary education.

For example, if their goal is to become a police officer or a firefighter, they’ll have to learn how to move through the ranks. Though college might not be the path for them, they will need to demonstrate proficiency and take coursework. I did a presentation on this topic in southern Illinois and somebody asked, “What if I want to be a family farmer?” Before I could respond, three people piped up, saying that farmers need to understand things like crop rotation, agribusiness, and irrigation. Every profession requires a level of expertise in some niche area. Having access to post-secondary coursework is a way everyone can stay relevant and nimble as an individual who wants to support themselves and possibly a family.

To move beyond these generalizations to some hard data, I asked the director of research and evaluation in my district, Township High School District 214, if we could do a meta-analysis revolving around what it actually means to be college and career ready.

Data-backed indicators

The research we compiled turned into what is now Redefining Ready!, a national initiative launched by AASA that provides college and career readiness indicators that are research-based rather than dependent solely on a test score. Our data shows that a student is ready for college if they have a GPA of at least 2.8 out of 4.0 plus at least one of the following:

• 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam;
• An A, B, or C in an Advanced Placement course;
• An A, B, or C in a dual-credit college English and/or math class;
• An A, B, or C in a college developmental/remedial English and/or math class;
• An A, B or C in Algebra II; or
• 4 or higher on the International Baccalaureate Exam.

Also, if a student has identified a career interest and meets at least two of the benchmarks listed below, we deem a student career ready.

• 90 percent attendance;
• 25 hours of community service;
• workplace learning experience;
• industry credential or certification;
• a dual-credit career pathway course; or
• two or more organized co-curricular activities.

Whether a student is aiming for college or the workforce, school districts should be able to create a personalized pathway that fits each student’s vision for their future.

Creating a personalized pathway

Our district has worked hard to personalize students’ experiences to make sure they have access to advanced coursework that is relevant to their career goals. To provide students opportunities to pursue their passions, and to ensure that high school education remains a positive, encouraging, and engaging experience, we have implemented what we call the Power of 15 initiative, which allows every student in our district to have access to a minimum of 15 early college credits before they graduate. That’s an entire college semester! In the graduating class of 2018, one-third of our students earned 15 or more college credit hours and 76 percent of students in this class had earned college credit.

Students choose courses based on their desired career trajectory. For example, if a student knows they want to pursue a STEM-related field, taking a college-level calculus 3 course makes perfect sense. Throughout their elementary and secondary schooling, they have been told what to do and how to do it. By giving students this opportunity, we are allowing students to take control of their future. That sense of responsibility is something students need to have in college and the workforce.

A crucial aspect of being career-ready is identifying a career interest. Many students struggle to dream beyond their current context. It is our job as educators to plant new dreams in the minds of our students and their families.

Taking a broader view of college-readiness benefits our educators, too. Our educators teach because they love to teach and their hearts fall when you tell them to teach to a test. It is wonderful to unleash the power and joy of educators. They get fired up about work because they see the relevance and the engagement in their students’ eyes.


Want to share a great resource? Let us know at