College readiness doesn’t just happen when a student receives a diploma. It’s a process that begins with early learners and continues into high school. And according to Achieve, many students aren’t prepared for first-year coursework at a community college: 52% need remediation in math and 34% need it in English. College instructors agree.
That’s why we developed College Explorer, an online tool to help students, families, teachers, and counselors navigate—and prepare for—post-secondary options. I sat down with Greg King, a research scientist with our Center for School and Student Progress, to learn more about this helpful resource and its recent refresh. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What is College Explorer?
College Explorer is a tool designed to help students, teachers, parents, and counselors connect future intentions and goals with MAP® Growth™ RIT scores, a measure students see every year. It’s a way for students to explore different colleges they never thought they might get into and for parents to talk with their kids about the different options for life after high school, particularly if they’ve never been in environments where college is a daily conversation.
How can this tool help high schoolers?
Most kids don’t know what fields exist or what careers and colleges are out there. I know when I grew up, I basically thought you could be a teacher or you could go into manufacturing, the military, or some sort of service industry. That’s all I really knew. I didn’t know about business or economics, or the education research I do now. I think most kids don’t know those things either.
College Explorer opens up new possibilities for students to be engaged in school, to look ahead and say, ‘I can go do these things.’”
Not only do many students miss out on hearing about the opportunities to prepare for careers at two- and four-year institutions, they also don’t know about the costs, so they are left with an information gap.
As an education not-for-profit that’s focused on equity for all and closing opportunity gaps, it’s really important to us to provide that missing link. It’s important for us to let students know, “You can accomplish these things. Let us help you make those connections and start those conversations.”
It’s all about providing lots of educational power and educational information to anybody who uses our tests. And this is a publicly available tool, so we’re doing that free of charge.
College Explorer just underwent a refresh, correct? What kinds of changes should people look for?
It’s now really fast for students to switch between colleges they’re exploring, look at different majors, look at everything each school offers. We’ve also made it easier to use: we’ve changed the format so it flows a little easier. And we’ve added more images so it’s easier to see things visually as opposed to just reading text or tables.
[T]his tool allows counselors to hear what interests kids early on and help students see what they can accomplish.”
Something I’m really excited about is the cost section. We show how much in-state and out-of-state tuition is, and then we also provide information about additional costs, including room, board, books, things that go into living in a place. Students can filter the cost of college by income level because we know those costs are going to look different from tuition since students get financial aid, scholarships, and other help, which brings those costs down.
The cost section is something I would really encourage people to look at when they’re thinking, “I don’t know if I can afford college.” The cost could actually be less than they think once they apply to the school and complete the FAFSA.
And, finally, we hear a lot about debt in the news and in popular media, but when you look at the debt by income level and by institutional type, it might look a lot different from what students’ perceptions are. So we’ve made that filterable so students can really see what it looks like for the typical student who is more comparable to them than just the typical student in general at that college.
It’s pretty evident how College Explorer can help students who are in high school and preparing for the next step of post-secondary education. But how can families, teachers, or counselors help younger students, say sixth or seventh graders, make the most of this resource?
I’m really excited you asked that.
So let’s say it’s the end of sixth grade and it’s time to start picking out classes for seventh grade. I come in as a student and say, “I really like Minecraft. I just really like building things. What electives can I take?” A counselor might say, “Well, that sounds a lot like an engineer.”
The student and counselor can then start diving into questions using the new college major portion of the tool. They can ask, “How’s your math work?” An answer might look something like this: “Let’s start working on those math skills to continue to bring those up. It looks like you might want to continue to grow your reading and language usage skills, too, so we can help you be ready for engineering-focused courses when you’re in high school.”
[College Explorer] is all about providing lots of educational power and educational information to anybody who uses our tests.”
Or let’s say a student loves poetry or writing. A counselor or teacher could help them take a look at some of the schools locally or nationally that have really good writing programs and see what that student might need to do to get into those schools. Or the counselor could go to the college major sheet and help a student explore what they might need to do to become an English major.
Now the idea of majoring in engineering or English may change later, but this tool allows counselors to hear what interests kids early on and help students see what they can accomplish. College Explorer opens up new possibilities for students to be engaged in school, to look ahead and say, “I can go do these things.”
Check out the newly refreshed College Explorer with your students, colleagues, school counselors, and families. And hear more from Dr. King in the following video.