09/26/2012 10:03 am ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

College Readiness Goes Beyond Academic Skills

This piece comes to us courtesy of The Hechinger Report's Community College Spotlight blog.

While "students need strong academic skills to succeed in postsecondary education," college readiness includes non-academic skills, behaviors and attitudes, write Melinda Mechur Karp and Rachel Hare Bork, researchers at the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia, in Inside Higher Ed. Many new students -- especially those who are the first in their family to go to college -don't understand what's expected of them.

In our recent research, we identified four specific areas -- academic habits, cultural know-how, the ability to balance school and other demands and engaging in help-seeking -- in which college faculty had clear expectations of their students. These expectations differed substantively from those in high school, and while meeting them was critical to college success, they remained largely unspoken.

Many college instructors think they already clearly articulate their expectations to students, but our research indicates that behavioral expectations must be made far more explicit and precise.

...For example, when an instructor asks students to "come to class prepared," what does she mean? If she means coming to class having completed a reading and being prepared to participate in discussions about it, she can include this expectation in the syllabus, explain it to students from the first day of class, and assign students to write out three questions or observations about the reading to discuss each week.

What does it mean to "study hard" for a test? Students may not know the difference between studying in high school and college -- unless they're told.

"Educators must stop blaming students for breaking rules that they do not know exist," conclude Karp and Bork.