04/17/2013 01:56 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2013

A Test of Our Commitment

If you're willing to read the blog of a person who works for ACT, I'm guessing you probably have some college experience.

If you attended college, you know what a syllabus is. You know what GPA stands for. You know how many credit hours there are in a semester, and how many semesters it takes to earn a degree.

You probably even know what the FAFSA is, and why that single bit of knowledge may determine whether you have the financial resources necessary to sustain your studies as long as it takes to earn a degree.

Congratulations. You've mastered the meta-curriculum of higher education. Now consider what your life would have been like without the friends or family members who tutored you on these "extracurricular" items. No matter how accomplished you were in class, there's a good chance your out-of-class inexperience would have seriously compromised your long-term chances for success.

Excelencia in Education (full disclosure, an organization ACT helps to support) understands the barriers to higher education better than most, since Latinos are approximately half as likely as the overall American adult population to have earned an associate's degree or higher.

In Using a Latino Lens, Excelencia urges policymakers to recognize that life circumstances can profoundly affect people's prospects for educational success, not only for Latinos, but for all "post-traditional" students, who are rapidly becoming the new norm.

Briefly, Excelencia recommends that educational leaders and all society:

  • Recognize that today's students are often older, work part or full time, attend multiple schools, and have significant family obligations.
  • Develop financial aid incentives that not only get people in the door as first-year students, but out the door in a reasonable amount of time with a degree.
  • Provide support systems and implement policies that can help first generation and low-income students succeed. One possibility? Requiring students to submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) with their college applications.

As Excelencia notes, "Given the complexity of the FAFSA and limited awareness of financial aid options, too many students are not receiving the financial aid they are eligible to receive because they do not apply."

  • Remember that today's "post-traditional" audiences, almost by definition, have different life stories than typical college graduates, and that those hoping to communicate with them need to reach beyond what are likely their own "traditional" backgrounds and experiences.

Using a Latino Lens contends that "While some believe a focus on race and ethnicity divides us as a society, Excelencia in Education believes acknowledging racial and ethnic trends describes our society and thus helps us understand it."

If my initial speculation was correct and you represent the typical demographic, consider investing a few hours in a student with a "post-traditional" background to help him or her negotiate admissions, financial aid, and the other elements of the meta-curriculum that make college success possible.

There will be a test, but it will not be from a textbook. Instead, it will be a test of our shared commitment to inclusion and equal opportunity for all.

It's a test we need to pass many times over.

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