The Summer Institutes at Celebration: Preparing High School Students in the Greater Austin Area for College Readiness and Success
College readiness can be defined as ‘the level of knowledge, skills, and behaviors necessary to enroll in credit-bearing courses at a post-secondary institution, to persist to graduation and secure employment’. Recent reports indicate that the college readiness of high school students attending publicly funded schools in the Greater Austin area continues to deteriorate, despite varying measures introduced by school districts to combat the declining levels of students prepared for college and work upon graduation. Most of the strategies implemented by school districts to help students prepare for life after high school primarily focus on academic coursework preparation and educational testing. However, studies have shown that solving the college readiness problem requires much more than academic preparation and the battery of college entrance and placement examinations. Students also need to develop non-cognitive and interpersonal skills to navigate and complete college successfully. 
What are the beliefs of high school students in the Greater Austin area towards career and college preparation?
College readiness is a predictor of academic success, ease of access to higher education opportunities, degree completion and career readiness. Ajzen and Fishbein (1980) were amongst the first to explain how beliefs and attitudes shape behavior. They postulated the theory of reasoned action, which if applied to the concept of college readiness, implies that students’ beliefs about career and college preparation can influence their behavioral intent towards college and hence explain their motivations to become ‘college ready’.
It is important to assess the perceptions and attitudes of high school students towards career and college preparation as it may offer some insight into why the college readiness of Greater Austin high school students has not improved in recent years. This is what I set out to do in my recent survey of students attending high schools in the Greater Austin area.
The random survey was conducted between February and March 2018 and measured the students college awareness, intent to attend a postsecondary education institution, career aspirations and interest in pre-college development programs. My findings showed that majority of the students (92%) attending public high schools had low levels of college awareness and felt that it was too early to start thinking about college and their career pathways. The few students (8%) with good levels of college awareness, were seniors who had accessed their school’s career and college advising services. Slightly more than half of the students (54%) could articulate their college and career goals, whilst the remaining students (46%) had no plans for life after high school. Majority of the students surveyed (94%) did not consider college and career planning to be a priority at the time of the survey. However, almost all students (98%) were interested in taking advantage of pre-college development programs and career training opportunities whenever available.
Can pre-college development programs motivate high school students in the Greater Austin area towards college and career readiness?
A variety of academic enrichment programs and initiatives designed to improve high school graduation rates and increase access to post-secondary education are available to students attending high schools in the Greater Austin area. For example, the Austin Independent School district offers free afterschool academic programs aimed at increasing graduation rates and improving students’ career and college readiness. However, these programs are rarely evaluated and their effectiveness has not been reflected in the recent college readiness evaluations.
Outside of the regular high school environment and readily available dual enrolment programs, there are few opportunities for high school students in the Greater Austin area to develop academically and prepare for the rigors of college life, at a very early stage of their studies, as I learned from my survey. Majority of the students I talked to expressed an interest in pre-college development courses, but less than half of the students were able to specify their pre-college or pre-career development needs. Though all the publicly funded high schools in the Greater Austin area offered college and career advisory services, a significant number of students lacked the motivation to prepare for life after high school. This is alarming as evidence points to a correlation between career planning, self-efficacy and successful college or career outcomes. 
Pre-college courses afford high school students an opportunity to engage in college-life and gain an understanding of the level of academic rigor required for specific course. They enable students to further develop their both academic and non-cognitive skills, and may offer career preparation or training opportunities. They are designed to supplement, rather than replace high school enrichment programs.
Various studies which have investigated the benefits of pre-college development programs in different higher education institutions have demonstrated improved academic efficacy and skills, greater self-esteem, improved self-management and a goal oriented mindset amongst students. Further studies have also shown that participation in pre-college programs is a predictor of degree completion. However these benefits are more likely to be realized when students are engaged in pre-college programs, from as early as grade 8.8
Does Southeastern University at Celebration offer pre-college courses?
Southeastern University at Celebration is working with local high schools to identify and create programs that meet the pre-college development needs of students in grades 9 to 12. Ten programs are on offer to high school students this summer. Participating high school students will have the opportunity to attend classes taught by professors’ study at the Southeastern University at Celebration campus. They will gain exposure to college learning and valuable social experiences. A key feature of the Southeastern University at Celebration Pre-college programs is the adaptation to academic rigor and mentorship. Southeastern University at Celebration Pre-college programs are not only designed to prepare high school seniors for transition to college level courses. They also encourage the individual development of students and promote skills for life management. More details on the SEU-Celebration Pre-College Development Programs can be found at https://goo.gl/posts/VeymZ
ACT (2013) Readiness Matters: The Impact of College Readiness on College Persistence and Degree Completion. Available at https://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/Readiness-Matters.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Ajzen I., & Fishbein M. (1980) Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Prentice-Hall, Inc; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Ajzen I., & Madden T.J. (1986) Prediction of goal-directed behavior: attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control. J Exp Soc Psych 22:453–474. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(86)90045-4.
Byrd, K., & MacDonald, G. (2005). Defining college readiness from the inside out: First generation college–student perspectives. Available online at http://faculty.washington.edu/gmac/pdf/CollegeReadiness.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
CCRS (2014) Predictors of Postsecondary Success. Available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED555671.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Conley, D.T. (2012) A Complete Definition of College and Career Readiness. Available at https://bostonbeyond.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Conley-college-readiness-definition-2012.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Crawley, F.E., Coe, A.S. (1990) Determinants of middle school students’ intention to enroll in a high school science course: an application of the theory of reasoned action. J Res Sci Teaching 27:461–476. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660270506
Edwards, W.A. (2010) Pre-College Programs and the Engaged University -Available at http://ncsue.msu.edu/files/EngagementExchange02_030310.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Ellis, J.M. (2015) College Readiness Beliefs and Behaviors of Adolescents in a Pre-College Access Program: An Extension of the Theory of Planned Behavior. Available at https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/116736. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Greater Austin Chamber (2017) Austin Chamber Partner School Districts Post Higher College Readiness Scores than State Average. Available online at https://www.austinchamber.com/blog/austin-chamber-partner-school-districts-post-higher-college-readiness-scores-than-state-average. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Minor, J.F. (2014) Introduction to the Career Planning process: The Career & Education Planning Process Available at http://eli.nvcc.edu/counseling/introduction_to_the_career_planning_process.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018
Nagaoka, J., Farrington, C., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Keyes, T., Johnson, D.& Beechum,. N. (2013). Readiness for College: The Role of Noncognitive Factors and Context. VUE, Fall. 2013. Available at: https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/VUE%20Noncognitive%20Factors.pdf. Accessed 22nd March 2018