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AU Wins Grants for Work to Make Postsecondary Education Accessible to All

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Blue graduation caps worn by American University graduates.

All students deserve an equitable and accessible pathway to postsecondary opportunity.

This is the guiding principal behind American University’s new Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success (CPRS), which launched this year and is already making news in the education world. The center has received three grants totaling more than $400,000 from Civic Nation, The Kresge Foundation, and Raise DC. They will help support the Center’s work to improve student access to college by closing higher education opportunity gaps, particularly for low income students, first-generation students, and students of color.

“We aim to position the center in a leadership role to challenge systemic and embedded barriers to equitable postsecondary opportunity,” says Laura Owen, CPRS director and AU School of Education research professor. “We are working with practitioners and researchers to develop new counseling and advising models and discover evidence-based practices that best support students along the cradle-to-career pipeline.”

Disparities and the Launch of CPRS

Though higher education is a critical pathway for social mobility, disparities in college access and degree attainment still persist. According to a 2016 Department of Education Report, the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment is widening for both black and Hispanic adults compared to white adults. Specifically, it has doubled from 9 to 20 percent for Hispanic residents since 1974 and from 6 to 13 percent for black residents since 1964.

American University’s School of Education formed the Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success in January to work towards closing these gaps. This spring, The Kresge Foundation awarded $100,000 to AU to support the center’s official launch and mission.

Owen said the center’s work will be informed by the latest and most robust research findings into student outcomes. “Our mission is to put best practices and knowledge into the hands of policymakers, while also connecting it to K-12 counselors, teachers, and leaders," she said. Specifically, CPRS will work to identify a common set of practitioner competencies needed to support students; to conduct interdisciplinary research to unpack effective practices that support equitable student postsecondary exploration and planning; and to publish reports to disseminate knowledge and provide tools to help US schools adopt new, evidence-based practices to support all students.

Civic Nation and the Up Next Texting Program 

Parents and teachers know that one way to get high-school students to pay attention is to text them. This is the premise behind the Up Next texting program, which helps prepare students for college by texting them timely information as they need it. Up Next sends messages about everything from preparing for the SAT/ACT to applying for financial aid.

Now, through a generous grant from The Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Up Next texting program will be expanded to serve 300,000 students beginning this fall. Two cohorts of 150,000 students each will receive text messages for two years (senior year of high school, summer after high school graduation, and during freshman year of college). Owen will oversee the school level implementation of Up Next and conduct the qualitative evaluation of the program. She will also provide support and technical assistance to the program’s partners.

Raise DC Grant

The center was also awarded a grant by Raise DC, a multi-sector partnership of local stakeholder working to provide every child with opportunities to succeed. CPRS was awarded $45,000 to support the 2018 the District of Columbia Access College Program (DC-CAP) Summer Melt Texting program.  DC-CAP is a privately-funded nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging and enabling DC public high school students to enroll in and graduate from college.

CPRS will work with DC-CAP College Retention Advisors to provide text messaging support to 3,500 rising DC college freshman and 1,500 rising DC college sophomores. The goal is to increase the number of DC students who transition to college and persist into their sophomore year. American University graduate students will reply to the automated text messages and offer personalized support regarding key tasks needed to remain on track for fall matriculation.