by DeShawn Preston, Ph.D. Candidate, & Amanda E. Assalone, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: The IDRA EAC-South provides technical assistance and training to build capacity of local educators to serve their diverse student populations. The IDRA EAC-South is one of four regional equity assistance centers and serves Region II, which covers Washington, D.C., and 11 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. IDRA is working with staff at the Southern Education Foundation and the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium to develop local capacity in the region among the 2,341 school districts and 29,632 schools with over 1 million educators and 16 million students. More information is available at

In order to meet the nation’s goal for leading the world in college completion by 2020, schools must provide multiple pathways to college in an effort to meet the needs of all students. The entire school community, e.g., administrators, teachers, and students, must commit to maintaining a college going culture for a student population that is becoming increasingly diverse (Martínez, 2015).

Listed below are successful strategies to consider for creating college readiness for students of color and students from immigrant families.

1. Improve school climate and eliminate exclusionary practices that hinder college preparation. First and foremost, school climate should be conducive to learning for all students with special attention placed on the non-academic needs as well as the academic needs of students. This requires educators to understand the multiple factors shaping students’ educational experiences and lives and to create a school climate that resists the pitfalls of cultural deficit, prejudice and diversity discourses (Turner, 2015).

Students need to be present in the classroom in order to perform academically, yet students of color tend to have higher dropout rates and are more likely to be removed from school for discipline than are White students. Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, and American Indian and Native Alaskan students are less than 1 percent of all students but make up 2 percent of out of school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions (U.S. Department of Education, 2014; also see Posner, 2015).

School leaders should examine how policies and practices impact students differently and detect inequitable outcomes. For example, exclusionary practices, such as educational tracking contributes to limiting English language learners (ELLs) from accessing upper-level courses and interacting with English-speaking and high achieving peers (Umansky, 2016).

2. Invest in hiring and retaining highly qualified leaders and teachers who are committed to serving ELLs and diverse student populations. Whereas quality instruction and rigorous academic content creates college readiness, ELLs often have unequal access to high quality learning opportunities (Umansky, 2016). All too often, the focus is centered on the students’ lack of English proficiency and differences rather than on their strengths and potential. Educators need advanced training and proper support to differentiate ELL students’ English skills from their academic knowledge and ability (Umansky, 2016).

With fewer than 12 percent of ELLs in the United States being taught in their primary language (Gandara, 2013), it is most important that schools invest in retaining highly qualified educators committed to eliminating academic barriers and ensuring equitable access to college for this student population.

In 2015, IDRA released new research on education of ELLs in middle school and high school developed through the IDRA José A. Cárdenas School Finance Fellows Program. The report provided a set of recommendations for policymakers, educators, community and business leaders and parents (see

3. Start early planning and preparing students for post-secondary education using a comprehensive approach that includes the entire community. The decision to attend college begins in middle school and ends when students’ graduate from high school and enroll in an institution of higher education (Hossler, et al., 1989). Starting early gives students and parents the opportunity to plan for college preparatory curriculum, as well as extracurricular activities.

Unfortunately, many students of color and low-income students are not exposed to a challenging curriculum, such as Advanced Placement courses (Theokas & Saaris, 2013). Students who are exposed to a challenging curriculum in middle school tend to perform better academically in high school and are more prepared for college than students who take less rigorous courses (Corwin & Tierney, 2007; Bojorquez, 2014). These students also develop a pro-active mindset to remain in good academic standing and secure financial information for attending college (Corwin & Tierney, 2007).

4. Provide post-secondary information and financing options for parents often and as early as middle school. Schools must be instrumental in assisting parents in developing a plan for their child to attend and pay for college. Assistance for parents can begin with discussions surrounding the cost of college, specific types of colleges, their academic programs, and various financial aid opportunities (Hossler, et al., 1999).

For many students, the actual price of college is significantly greater than what the recruitment literature, conventional wisdom and even official statistics convey (Goldrick-Rab & Knedall, 2016). Goldrick-Rab & Kendall discovered, “The current approach to higher education financing too often leaves low-income students facing unexpected and sometimes untenable expenses” (2016).

Information and guidance for college should be provided through announcements, newsletters, pamphlets, university representative presentations, counselors, resources in the school library, and information on teacher’s bulletin boards, etc. (Martínez, 2015).

5. Assist students with identifying institutions of higher education that have proven to be successful in educating and supporting low-income students and students of color. Educators must ensure they are sending students to institutions of higher education that offer support and safe spaces for low-income students and students of color to thrive academically and socially. Minority-serving institutions are great examples of such spaces. They have proven to be an important entity within the higher education landscape as institutions that have graduated millions of students of color, including a large proportion of first generation college students and low-income students (Cunningham, et al., 2014).

Minority-serving institutions are recognized for providing a nurturing and supportive environment that upholds an underrepresented minority culture that remains relatively free from discrimination (John & Stage, 2014). By providing a positive environment, they graduate underrepresented minority college students at a rate that surpasses those of predominantly White institutions (Stage, et al., 2012).

See IDRA’s report on ELL secondary education



Bojorquez, H. (2014). College Bound and Determined (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).

Corwin, Z.B., & W.G. Tierney. (2007). “Getting There – And Beyond: Building a Culture of College-Going in High Schools,” Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University of Southern California.

Cunningham, A., & E. Park, J. Engle. (February 2014). Minority-Serving Institutions: Doing More with Less (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Higher Education Policy).

Gandara, P. (2013). “Meeting the Needs of Language Minorities,” in K.J. Wilner & P. Carter (Eds.), Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must do to Give Every Child an Even Chance (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press).

Goldrick-Rab, S., & N. Kendall. (March 3, 2016). The Real Price of College (New York, N.Y.: The Century Foundation).

Hossler, D., & J. Braxton, G. Coopersmith. (1989). “Understanding Student College Choice,” Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 5, 231-288.

Hossler, D., & J. Schmit, N. Vesper. (1999). Going to College: How Social, Economic, and Educational Factors Influence the Decisions Students Make (Baltimore, Md.: Hopkins University Press).

John, G., & Stage, F. K. (2014). “Minority-Serving Institutions and the Education of US Underrepresented Students,” New Directions for Institutional Research, 2013(158), 65-76.

Martinez, M.A. (2015). Increasing College Readiness and Creating a College Culture at Texas High School Serving Low-Income Students and Students of Color: Preliminary Findings (Bryan, Texas: Greater Texas Foundation).

Posner, L. (August 2014). “School Discipline Gone South – The Call for Restoration,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).

Stage, F., & V. Lundy-Wagner, G. John. (2012). “Minority-serving Institutions and STEM: Charting the Landscape,” in R. Palmer, & D. Maramba, M. Gasman (Eds.), Fostering Success of Ethnic and Racial Minorities in STEM: The Role of Minority-serving Institutions (New York, N.Y.: Routledge).

Theokas, C., & R. Saaris. (2013). Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students (Washington, D.C.: Education Trust).

Turner, E.O. (2015). “Districts’ Responses to Demographic Change: Making Sense of Race, Class, and Immigration in Political and Organizational Context,” American Educational Research Journal, 52(1), 4-39.

U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education).

Umansky, I.M. (2016). “Leveled and Exclusionary Tracking: English Learners’ Access to Academic Content in Middle School,” American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1792-1833.


DeShawn Preston, Ph.D. Candidate, is a research fellow at the Southern Education Foundation, and Amanda E. Assalone, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral research and policy analyst at the Southern Education Foundation. Comments and questions may be directed to them at

Founded in 1867 as the George Peabody Education Fund, the Southern Education Foundation’s mission is to advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South, particularly low-income students and students of color. SEF uses collaboration, advocacy and research to improve outcomes from early childhood to adulthood. With a core belief that education is the vehicle by which all students get fair chances to develop their talents and contribute to the common good, SEF strives to fulfill its mission through the following core program areas: promoting early learning opportunities, advancing public education and improving college access and completion.

[©2017, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2017 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please email Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]