The Five Principles of College Access

Labor experts agree that a college degree is critical for financial well being. Whereas 32% of White students in California move on to four-year universities, only 23% of African Americans and 12% of Latinos do so. So in this post, we’ll look at the five principles of college access.

A primary reason for these unequal rates of college-going is that many African American and Latino students attend high schools that lack the conditions necessary to support a college-going culture–such as quality teachers, adequate instructional materials, and a rigorous curriculum. (See Jeannie Oakes’ article in the last issue of TCLA.) These conditions must be present for all students to have an opportunity for college success and financial well being.

Clearly, much work is needed to secure these conditions. But alongside this work, we need to examine how under-represented students (and their parents) can increase the chances of being successful within existing high schools. This column of Teaching to Change LA will explore different ways that students find high school pathways around obstacles and into college. We will listen to their words and experiences, and try to draw some lessons from their successes and difficulties.

This article can’t take the place of knowledgeable and encouraging college counseling from a trained professional. However, we will give you some broad guidelines to the kind of information you should expect from your school (if you can get it there) or through your own searches. Students and their parents must take charge of their college destiny, but usually, they do not have to do it alone.

This article uses the work of Tony Collatos, a UCLA doctoral student, to present a framework for college preparation. We have included the words of students who participated in a college access/intervention program to give readers a better sense of how Collatos’ principles appear in students’ own experiences.

Here are Collatos’ Five Principles:

  • Right Courses: A-G course eligibility must be met, and students must take courses recognized as “college prep” by universities within California;
  • Right Grades: A grade of “C-“ or higher must be attained in order to compete for college admissions at a four-year university;
  • Right Testing: The SAT, ACT, or SATII must be taken for four-year university eligibility;
  • Right Activities: Students must be involved in extra-curricular activities to compete for the limited number of college admissions;
  • Right Decisions: Personal and social decisions must be made that increase the opportunity to attend a university.

We asked students in the “College Access Program,” many who now attend a four-year college, to look back on their high school experiences. As you read their words, think about Collatos’ Five Principles:

Counselors are not helping students a lot. That’s a big problem because students are not going to be motivated to take hard classes or AP classes. If students are told that they’re not capable of succeeding in high school and they’re not capable of making it to college, then they take lower-level classes.

It’s important for students to know what they need to do when they’re freshman, just to keep them on track. Most of the students don’t know the right track to go to college. They’ve been taking classes that they don’t even need, or they’re not encouraged to take AP because they don’t know anything about them.

My coach sees soccer as a way for me to get into college. It’s just another tool that I can use to get to do what I want to do.

My parents always tell me ‘if you only have good grades, it’s better. Colleges will look at you and see that you’re bright and that you’re capable of succeeding in college.

In many instances, these students felt that the school system (e.g. counseling, class assignments, etc.) did not help, but actually got in the way of their going to college. These students were not enrolled in the college-bound track when they entered high school, and some were not even expected to graduate from high school. Yet, 25 were accepted to four-year universities, 17 enrolled in four-year universities, and six enrolled in community colleges in the Fall of 2011. Clearly, there is something about the five principles that makes a big difference in students’ access to college.

As a result of the research, we now know what it takes to go to college. They’re teaching us to do what it takes to get there, like going up to a counselor and saying, ‘ I need this class changed.’ And that can be really, really intimidating…But knowing what we have to do and knowing what the ultimate goal is and being reminded of that in the Futures class makes it easier to just go up to that counselor and say, ‘You know what? I need this class changed and if you need my parents to come in they’re going to come in. If you need them to call to remind you to change my class, it’s going to happen.

Students in the project were convinced that all students could benefit from the five principles. It’s all about singling students out and making sure that they don’t get lost in that crowd of faces.