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College Readiness and America’s College Promise

By Anne M. Kress

College readiness is the key to making the most of the Obama administration’s free community college proposal.

President Barack Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal has sparked a national conversation about the value of community college for today’s students. Many, myself included, support the president’s vision of making two years of higher education more accessible to all Americans. Others are more skeptical, often citing low completion rates for community college students. To help our students reach the finish line in their pursuit of a degree, certificate or other credential, we must start by improving college readiness.

Community college leaders have long recognized the challenges of educating students who arrive at our doors academically underprepared. Many of these students must enroll in remedial courses, slowing their path to a degree and too often completely derailing it. As part of our nationwide commitment to completion, we must ensure that all students enter college classrooms ready from day one, streamlining their path to graduation.

At Monroe Community College (MCC) in New York, we’ve made college preparedness a priority. In partnership with local school districts, community-based organizations, businesses and national organizations, we’ve created programs that prepare high school students to meet college expectations.

We must create programs that prepare students for all of the challenges of higher education — from more rigorous academics to increased responsibility for personal finances.

For instance, the World of Inquiry College Readiness Project — a collaboration between MCC, the Rochester City School District’s World of Inquiry School, and the First Niagara Foundation — facilitates juniors and seniors on the path from high school to college. The program focuses on academic learning, such as improving students’ foundational English and math skills, and on lifelong tools for student success, such as managing money, understanding the rigors of higher education and developing good habits for personal success. Importantly, we measure students’ college readiness in September and again in June to ensure we are moving the needle and to make any necessary adjustments. We must create programs that prepare students for all of the challenges higher education — from more rigorous academics to increased responsibility for personal finances.

New this year, MCC and the Rochester City School District are partners in a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). This model pairs students with mentors, provides opportunities for practical experience in information technology and blends high school and college requirements so that students graduate in six years with a high school diploma and an associate degree — free of charge. President Obama has praised P-TECH programs for preparing students for the 21st-century economy. These are effective, replicable models that strengthen the educational pipeline.

As community college leaders, we can make it our priority to partner with K-12 schools, local businesses, community-based organizations and national organizations to ensure all students arrive on our campuses prepared for their college education. From personalized advising to precollegiate courses, we can continue to offer programs that create an educational pipeline from kindergarten to college and beyond. Together, we can help our students start their higher education on the right foot — and ensure they have the resources they need to make the most of America’s College Promise.

Anne M. Kress

is the president of Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y.

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