• by Nilka Avilés, Ed.D. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2015 •

Dr Nilka Aviles, Ed.D.Today’s global economy demands that students perform at rigorous levels. As educators, we must continually review our practices, policies and programs that are designed to improve students’ preparation for post-secondary pathways. Of primary importance for school leaders is equipping educators to succeed within the complexities of systemic change in culturally- and linguistically-diverse schools. Consequently, we should open the doors to greater collaboration that better serves our diverse student population.

When our secondary schools, for example, do not successfully prepare all students for college, their students struggle to navigate through the intricate transitions from high school to post-secondary education. Sometimes, the barriers are so overwhelming that even after students have entered college, they find themselves unprepared for the rigors of college-level work (Bangser, 2008).

Unpreparedness is not just about academic skills but includes other factors as well. Deborah Hirsch states, “Those who struggle are more likely to attribute it to bad luck or factors they see as out of their influence” (2010). As noted by Brian Harke (2011), student overconfidence, lack of preparedness and uninformed expectations about college resulted in nearly 34 percent of college students dropping out during their first year.

Mellard & Lancaster (2003) summarize that students’ limited success can be exacerbated by institutional issues, how well students are prepared, increasing competition for resources, and interagency collaboration.

Identifying limiters and developing culturally-responsive solutions are paramount if educators are to assist all students to enter and graduate from college. The key is having the mindset and commitment to be involved with the educational success of all the students. Solutions must integrate academic, personal, social and cultural information that directly support student transition, matriculation and retention in college.

Success requires attention from everyone involved in the education process: principals, teachers, counselors, citizens and community leaders, and post-secondary education personnel. It is critical that each understands the role they play in the success of students.

For example, children’s vision for going to college should be nurtured at the earliest school age possible. This could include general discussions on careers and what skills the careers require. The frequency, intensity and depth of these discussions about college should then grow as students progress through school. Concurrently, a social support system must be developed.

The middle school level is a  critical juncture as student planning for the future begins to become more formalized. This can be supported through school advisories, post-secondary seminars, college transition courses at the seventh and eighth grade levels, college summer academies, coordinated efforts between community agencies and the school, and strong family and community involvement focused on college readiness. Examples include integrating diverse career awareness activities, visiting colleges and universities, creating personalized learning environments, clarifying the elements of financial aid, and preparing for college entrance exams.

The focus in high school should be on aligning the curriculum to the rigor of college courses and making sure all students have access to, and are on a path to, take these courses. Schools can point students to culturally-responsive support services, appropriate uses of technology, and differences between college and high school expectations. It is important for students to identify requirements for the particular career and college or university to which they are applying.

In addition, ensuring student success must include non-cognitive factors, such as self-efficacy and self-regulation strategies. Dweck, et al., (2014) state that systemic change occurs through educational interventions and initiatives that transform student experiences into academic, social and emotional improvement. Along these lines, IDRA has developed a professional development process that uses culturally-relevant bilingual scenario cards for use with groups of students and parents. The cards provoke reflection through real situations that inspire solutions with engaging discussions about the college transition process (see right).

One sample scenario for students reads: “Many scientists and inventors did not succeed the first time they tried to do something and they were purposeful and determined to accomplish their mission. Many times they failed but they did not give up. You started taking a challenging class this semester and it seems that things are not going well. During the first progress report you made a D. You want to be able to finish this class and make a good grade as you know it is important for you to keep a high GPA (grade point average). What actions would you take to accomplish your goal? Have you challenged yourself and persisted even though it has been difficult? Should you seek your friends help?”

At several parent and community seminars focused on college preparation, these scenarios have been used to stimulate discussion about helping children’s college transition be more effective. Parents have shared that exposure to these activities have helped them understand how they can help their children.

It is essential to ensure that all stakeholders be focused on the same outcome: focusing and  developing students’ assets, implementing effective strategies to have a productive transition from high school to college, and increasing student academic success rates at the post-secondary level.


Avilés, N. & R. Rodríguez. “The Cognitive and Affective Dimensions of College Readiness,” IDRA Newsletter (May 2014).

Bangser, M. Preparing High School Students for Successful Transitions to Postsecondary Education and Employment (Washington, D.C.: American Institutes for Research, National High School Center 2008).

Dweck, C.S., & G.M. Walton, G.L. Cohen. Academic Tenacity: Mindsets and Skills that Promote Long-Term Learning (Seattle, Wash.: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014).

Harke, B. “High School to College Transition, Part 1: The Freshman Myth, University of Southern California,” Huffington Post – Los Angeles (2011).

IDRA Classnotes Podcast. “A Principal on Supporting Teachers for Student College Readiness – Podcast Episode 128,” (September 6, 2013).

Hirsch, D. “The High School to College Transition: Minding the Gap,” The New England Journal of Higher Education (2010).

Mellard, D.F., & P.E. Lancaster. “Incorporating Adult Community Services in Students’ Transition Planning,” Peer Reviewed Articles Paper 5 (2003).

Villarreal, A., & R.G. Rodríguez, N. Avilés, R. López del Bosque. Partnering with Parents for Student Success – A Guide for Secondary Teachers Administrators (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2013).

Nilka Avilés, Ed.D., is a senior education associate in IDRA’s Department of Student Access and Success. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at nilka.aviles@idra.org.

[©2015, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2015 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.]