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Postsecondary success is an umbrella term referring to any policy, program, or strategy that advances students toward a college credential. The use of the word “credential” is intentional. The term is more inclusive, and covers any validation of skills earned after completing a high school diploma. While the three most-discussed college credentials are certificates, associate degrees, and baccalaureate degrees, credentials can also refer to apprenticeships, licenses, and workforce readiness certifications.

The single most important predictor of postsecondary success is academic preparation. The quality of preparation students receive, from preschool through 12th grade, impacts the likelihood of their success in postsecondary education. The use of the ACT and SAT as tools for developing early remedial interventions could also increase preparation. For adults, access to developmental education (e.g., Adult Basic Education, ESL, remedial education) is critical to making the transition to postsecondary education.

While states will and should continue to invest in recent high school graduates who seek bachelor’s degrees, legislators should support programs for nontraditional students seeking other college credentials, such as certificates, licenses or applied associate degrees. By deploying resources for credentials and careers that are in high demand, legislators can increase college attainment rates and the wages of their residents. To evaluate the potential impact of investments in college attainment, legislators should use economic and demographic data to assess current and projected workforce needs.

Creating college and career pathways for low-income, minority, and first-generation students is one strategy that states are using to strengthen odds of student success. With tight state budgets, however, policymakers should leverage existing strategies and resources. An effective, relatively low cost strategy is strengthening transfer and articulation policies, by implementing statewide general education core curricula and guaranteed four-year transfer for students who have completed an associate degree.

Rigorous standards for all curricula, whether collegiate, technical or job-related, must be implemented to ensure no student falls behind. Blurring the line between high school and college through programs like dual and concurrent enrollment will allow students to learn at their own pace and feel a personal investment in their education.


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