• by Nilka Avilés, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2013 •

Dr Nilka Aviles, Ed.D.How much longer can our country afford to be emaciated by the loss of its vast human potential? Research shows that all students should be considered “college material” and can become college ready if presented with opportunities to learn in an equitable learning environment (Conley, 2010). The pervasive myth that low-income and minority students are not college material has perpetuated discrimination and tracking of students into water-downed courses and graduation paths that steer them away from college.

Our society has been erroneously concerned only with select students who are deemed college material instead of expanding college readiness efforts that prepare more students for college. We should instead focus our energy on how education systems can better prepare all students to meet the demands of academia and the workforce. This article shares strategies schools can use to provide curriculum and instructional equity for all students.

What Loss of Human Potential Means to the United States

The lack of college readiness has a direct relation to our future with demographic changes that will see minorities – specifically Hispanics – as the majority population group in a few decades (Glover Blackwell, et al., 2010). A high school diploma alone is no longer enough. By 2020, 65 percent of jobs will require some form of post-secondary education (Lumina Foundation, 2013). According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2011), young adults (ages 25-34) had a college attainment rate of 42 percent, placing the United States 13th among developed nations.

Given the lower high school and college attainment rates for minority students, there is a danger that the majority of the population will not be equipped with necessary skills to perform jobs, leaving us at a financial risk (Glover Blackwell, et al., 2010). The attitudes, beliefs and mental blocks of people within systems are part of the problem as they deny critical college information to some groups of students and parents. Often, when students do not meet school standards, blame is charged to students and parents. However, education systems that lack quality teaching and equitable resources to provide an education of excellence are set up to generate unsuccessful outcomes.

We must improve academic achievement for marginalized student populations, develop more equitable practices, and implement social justice within the PreK-20 educational context through well-planned actions, effective reform structures, equitable finances, successful program implementation structures, and resources that are needed to close the academic achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.

Strategies Schools Can Use to Build College Readiness

Every student is college material the minute he or she enters the educational pipeline. There is an innate curiosity in children to know more about their world. Families and educators play an important role in promoting this natural wonder. We can develop children’s strong intellectual capacity by asking questions that cultivate the imagination, creating a thirst for learning new ways to see the world and its possibilities. In schools, it is everyone’s responsibility to value students and the knowledge they bring to school. As educators, we must engage and build upon their curiosity to learn. The education system must ensure students are prepared academically, socially and emotionally with competencies and skills needed to become successful in school, college and life (Wagner, 2010). Every child must understand that he or she is college material and has a right to be prepared for college.

IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework shows that teaching quality, curriculum quality and access, student engagement, and parent and community engagement are four key indicators, along with fair funding and governance efficacy, of schools that lead to graduation and college readiness (Robledo Montecel & Goodman, 2010).

When these are in place and teachers are supported, they can help students develop their intellectual capacity (Hopkins, 2010; Kirkpatrick, et al., 2008; Kuh, et al., 2005). Following are some strategies teachers can use to assist students.

  • Ask questions, such as Why? Why not? How come? What if? How might?, to foster critical thinking.
  • Guide students to examine things and ideas in more detail.
  • Provide experiential learning through internships or service learning where students can put into practice what they learn in real-life activities.
  • Offer opportunities for collaboration in school and out of school, communicating with others from different backgrounds, participating in self and group reflections, participating in peer tutoring, developing teamwork and active learning.
  • Seek and probe additional information from students, such as Tell me more about…, How can I find more about…?
  • Create classroom-based problems and have students seek solutions.
  • Arrange possibilities for students to compare and make connections between different disciplines and content areas (Why should we know this? How does this apply to the world around us?).
  • Provide time and be available to develop relationships with students, parents and teachers.
  • Celebrate successes and provide caring support to build confidence, creativity and excitement.
  • Model enthusiasm by verbal and non-verbal communication.

It is important to find out how students learn best and what will spark intellectual capacity. The beginning of the logical and analytical processes that develop cognition must be integrated through lesson delivery to trigger the formulations of ideas and investigations. Managing ideas and making connections among the different content disciplines allows for scaffolding and building on content knowledge. Students need to manage substantial amounts of information, be organized and regulate their time effectively. Students must be able to study independently and in groups, know which questions to ask, how to seek help and receive academic support, and maximize the support services that are provided. Schools, in collaboration with parents, must ensure students maintain well-balanced life experiences between the academic, social and emotional worlds.

Planning lessons that are engaging is the first step. Exposing students to problem-solving opportunities through effective instructional learning strategies where they apply prior knowledge and content skills to seek new knowledge is critical in the learning process. In addition, cooperative structures facilitate maximum student interaction where students teach and learn from each other.

Learning may be difficult at times, and the innate joy for learning may begin to fade. As educators, we know that the unique gift of intellectual capacity is restored quickly through the engagement of meaningful lessons, keeping students’ minds active, expecting and anticipating ideas, and exploring and discovering other possibilities and undertakings. It is important for teachers to constantly enhance and kindle the flames of curiosity, providing students with classroom opportunities for them to inquire, explore, construct knowledge, improve memory and develop love for learning (Kirkpatrick, et al., 2008).

College-ready students are immersed in a quality comprehensive preparation program, have a solid academic foundation, know when and how to register for college exams, how to conduct research to find the right college fit, apply, fulfill financial demands and develop a circle of emotional support. Students must know that intellectual curiosity is a valuable resource because it produces inquisitive citizens for an informed global society.


Conley, D. College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School, first edition (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2010).

Hopkins, K. “Developing Curiosity: Teach Them How to Wonder,” Jossey-Bass Education blog post (May 20, 2010).

Glover Blackwell, A., & S. Kwoh, M. Pastor. Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future (New York, N.Y.: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010).

Kirkpatrick, P., & B. Taylor. “Building Intellectual Capacity,” PowerPoint presentation (Austin, Texas: The Charles A. Dana Center, University of Texas at Austin, 2008).

Kuh, G.D., & J. Kinzie, J.H. Schuch, E.J. Whitt and Associates. Student Success in College: Creating Conditions that Matter, first edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

Lumina Foundation. A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, annual report (Indianapolis, Ind.: Lumina Foundation for Education, Inc., 2013).

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Education at a Glance 2011 (France: OECD Publishing, 2011).

Robledo Montecel, M., & C.L. Goodman (eds). Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Wagner, T. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 2010).

Nilka Avilés, Ed.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2013, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2013 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. 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.]