Center for American Progress

Develop Strong Signals and Clear Incentives to Students About the Path to College
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Develop Strong Signals and Clear Incentives to Students About the Path to College

The federal government, states, and districts should send clear messages directly to students about what is required of them in order to prepare for college and, in turn, provide rewards for strong performance.

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The federal government, states, and districts should send clear messages directly to students about what is required of them in order to prepare for college and, in turn, provide rewards for strong performance. Parents and students are more likely to strongly respond to programs if they receive a strong signal about expectations and if performance is connected to incentives and real payoffs they care about, particularly college attainment.

High schools cannot ask students to work hard, engage in more rigorous coursework, and develop specific sets of skills if students and their families do not understand the connection between their efforts in high school and attaining their college aspirations. James Rosenbaum has argued that open admissions policies have sent the message that all you need to do to go to college is to graduate from high school. This is true; any high school graduate can go to college. However, the probability of attaining a bachelor’s degree depends on the student’s preparation and skills. Raising students’ high school performance must begin by changing students’ view that because a high school diploma allows admission to some form of college, working hard in high school does not matter for college. This linkage between college aspirations and working hard in high school must be a core part of building a college-going climate.

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