We have seen significant federal and state education reform initiatives over the past several years all geared at improving academic outcomes for learners spanning the educational spectrum. President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s educational imperative calls for our country to ascend to the top of global higher education ranks- restoring our leadership after having lost ground, within one generation, of being the country with the highest proportion of students graduating from college. The U.S. currently ranks 14 th among the 37 membership countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and G20. Korea, Japan, Canada, Russian Federation, and Ireland hold the top five slots. But many of our country’s reform initiatives have focused almost exclusively on an in-school reform agenda. This by no means is an issue to argue. Education in the United States is in need of drastic reform measures. But, are there other initiatives that can support the types of education reform, transformation and innovation to improve learning outcomes that can lead to positive gains in college and career readiness outcomes?
I say “yes” and I would suggest that we look at high quality afterschool programming.
One may ask “afterschool programs?” Many hear the term “afterschool programs” and think of safe, supervised places to keep young children after the school day ends and until a caring adult arrives to take them home. Many hear the term “afterschool programs” and they think of fun and games geared towards keeping those very children engaged and happy. Others may hear “afterschool” and just think of it as the opposite of “in school.” These may all be true to some degree, but what is to preclude afterschool programming from promoting those rigorous outcomes that correlate with college and career preparation- even at the early ages? Are those in the afterschool sector even convinced that high quality programming will have an effect on our children and youth?
We have to believe that high-quality afterschool programming can significantly influence the skills our students need to be successful in a 21st global economy. More focus in the discourse regarding practice, policy and research in afterschool should emphasize educational outcomes with the presumed intent of this emphasis on promoting achievement. Achievement in this context can be defined as high school success, college access and career-readiness particularly for those students who are from low-income backgrounds or are first in their families to potentially attend college. More effort should be made to uniquely join the interests of two very large fields- afterschool and college access and career readiness – to think about how to build an educational pipeline that intends to yield strong results.
There are three questions that might guide our efforts in facilitating a relationship between afterschool and college access and career readiness:
- What is unique and discernible about the afterschool and college access and career readiness professions?
- What is the relationship between afterschool programming and college access and career readiness programming?
- What can afterschool not do (or not do effectively) to promote college access and career readiness?
I have had tremendous opportunities throughout my professional life to create bridges in purposeful ways. I have spent 18 years in higher education, five years in the afterschool education and two years in college access and success. In February 2006, I spoke before congressional staff at a briefing on Capitol Hill to the U.S. Senate Afterschool Caucus. During that presentation, I advanced the notion that high-quality afterschool programming could:
- positively affect academic and student achievement;
- provide a platform for a deeper focus in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math);
- influence outcomes for older youth in middle and high school;
- promote stronger public and private partnerships;
- postsecondary access and success; and
- career awareness and workforce preparation.
So for nearly seven years, I have spoken and presented widely on this theme suggests the need for a tighter alignment between afterschool, college access and career readiness. As I made my way back into higher education, I have been able to develop and implement institutional and community-based programming that bridges afterschool, college access and career-readiness.
Researchers and practitioners in the college access and career readiness fields have suggested five major influencers in the college-going decision making process. These include:
- Academic Preparation : students’ level of academic preparation and readiness to attend a college or university.
- Expectations : students’ expectations about attending college (or not) as well as their parents’, family and teachers’ expectations.
- Culture and Support : peer culture and the presence (or absence) of parental, familial and school support.
- Information and Awareness : information and awareness of planning for a postsecondary experience and admissions and applications processes.
- Perception of Affordability : perspective of the cost of a post-secondary experience.
So how can afterschool address the primary influencers through programming? I will share examples in my subsequent writings. I will share more about what we can do in afterschool to ensure college readiness and success for those we are serving as well ideas for specific types of curricular, co-curricular programming and partnerships that support our efforts. I will also share some musings about the role higher education institutions can play as strong partners in the process. It is time for us to reimagine afterschool.
Dr. Adrian K. Haugabrook is Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success and Chief Diversity Officer at Wheelock College in Boston, MA. He currently serves as Immediate Past Chair after having served as the Chair, Board of Directors of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) based in McLean, VA from 2008-2012. NAA serves over 5,000 members and 32 state affiliates and is the leading voice of the afterschool profession. Follow him on Twitter at @AKHaugabrook.