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    Getting High School Equivalency Students on Track to College

    In October 2014, LaGuardia Community College was awarded a 4-year, $2.9 million First in the World grant, out of which grew Project COMPLETA: Comprehensive Support for Student Success. A main focus of Project COMPLETA is to help thousands of high-risk High School Equivalency (HSE)/GED students transition into their first year of college and propel them to graduation. Our Back on Track Initiative provides the support necessary to accomplish this goal.

    Drawing on evidence-based college access research and the promising outcomes from LaGuardia’s Bridge to College and Careers Program, the Back on Track Initiative has been designed to support nontraditional adult students, immigrants and out of school youth in the transition from HSE programs to college enrollment. The Back on Track Initiative is assisting HSE students in making a successful transition to college by focusing on three inter-related college access and success activities as detailed below.

    For a more in-depth look at the Back on Track Initiative, click here 

    1. Providing Robust College Enrollment Support for High School Equivalency (HSE) Students


    Recent research has documented the high attrition rate (otherwise known as “summer melt”) of college-intending students in the transition from high school to college. These low income, first generation students do apply to college but ultimately do not enroll in college classes in the semester following their high school graduation. Castleman and Page found that offering recent high school graduates 2-3 hours of college transition summer support increased college enrollment among low-income students by eight percent.

    By implementing proactive and personalized student outreach and providing advisement support in years 1-2 of the Back on Track Initiative, a significant percentage of HSE/GED students successfully navigated the steps to college enrollment. In years 1-2, Back on Track maintained an 18 percentage point increase in college matriculation when compared to the baseline, from the 2014 benchmark of 45% to 63%.

    The chart below shows completion of key steps to college enrollment targeted by Back on Track in Years 1-3.

    2. Closing the Readiness Gap in Mathematics


    After taking their college placement exam, historically ninety percent (90%) of HSE/GED students enter LaGuardia’s freshman math remediation class, meaning an overwhelming majority of these students are required to take developmental non-credit math classes. The students who enroll in these classes traditionally face more challenges to degree completion than their peers who enter credit-bearing college courses right away.

    However, Peter Bahr found that students who complete their math developmental course sequence successfully will have the same long-term academic attainment in math and other subjects as students who do not require developmental courses. In response to this large gap in math readiness, the Back on Track Initiative will improve the pass rate for math basic skills through the use of pre-college math courses designed to prepare students for the college placement exam; provide additional math support to students registered for developmental math courses in their first semester; and create strong admission pipelines to campus programs such as CUNY Start and First Year Institutes which are designed to help freshmen with remedial needs.

    Across LaGuardia, this working group has been able to better analyze student data and use it as a means of making concrete plans and improved outreach strategies, which include targeted and just-in-time messages using student friendly technology.

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    3. Building a College Going Culture in Adult Education Programs


    Supporting HSE/GED students goes beyond providing college application assistance. Staff who work directly with HSE/GED students need to have the skill set and knowledge to first help students develop aspirations for college and career goals, and secondly, facilitate the process for next steps. A vital component of the Back on Track Initiative has been the establishment of a professional development venue designed to help key staff in pre-college HSE/GED programs build their capacity for providing the transition and college readiness support and counseling that these students need. It is only through this capacity building with existing staff across departments that the initiative can be brought to scale on campus.

    Brimming with lessons learned over the last three years, this supportive staff community is poised to take on the challenges of the fourth year of the grant, which include using capacity building with existing staff across departments to bring the initiative to scale on campus. Upcoming goals include a college aspirations marketing campaign complete with brochures, poster-sized student success stories and a repository of social media messaging for students. Staff will not only continue helping students navigate the intricacies of the matriculation process, including assisting with financial aid; immunization records; placement testing; and connection to effective first year intervention programs, but they’ll also be spreading these best practices to the rest of their colleagues. Click here to learn more about our professional development services.