Case study
Working paper

Improving the Transition from High School to Postsecondary Education

Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University
Anthony Lising Antonio
Stanford Graduate School of Education
Samuel H. Bersola
Harvard University
Andrea Conklin Bueschel
Rutgers University


PACE presents three working papers on the inadequacies and difficulties of successful transition from high school to college. These papers are derived from The Bridge Project, a six-state study of K–16 issues.

These three papers do not attempt to cover all aspects of K–16 and transition issues. Consequently, the policy implications at the end are based solely on these studies. While the media has focused a disproportionate amount of its attention on the highly selective University of California system, these studies provide fresh perspectives on the issues of college preparation, transition, and success for the vast majority of California students who attend the broad-access institutions—the California State University system (CSU) and community colleges.

Anthony Lising Antonio and Samuel H. Bersola provide an overview of what California students and parents know about college, and when they know it. The survey results are alarming and reveal widespread ignorance or misinformation about college requirements, readiness, and needed actions to be successful at college. For example, at CSU and community colleges, the placement exam given to entering first-year students is a crucial education standard, but students know little about the placement process or the content of the exam. Students incorrectly think their high school graduation standards are equivalent to college placement standards.

Andrea Bueschel summarizes case studies of the Los Rios Community College District and some of its feeder high schools. She analyzes how and why prospective high school students receive vague and conflicting signals about academic college readiness. Moreover, she provides some significant contextual data on California students’ transition from high school to community college.

Michael Kirst provides a concrete example of how to improve K–16 transition and placement and send clearer academic standards signals to high school students. He describes how CSU and the California State Board of Education concluded negotiations in 2003 that merged CSU placement standards into the existing statewide California standards tests (CST) given to all students in Grades 1–11. CSU set the minimum test scores that high school juniors would need to reach and agreed to accept the CST in lieu of its own placement exam for those students. Low-scoring high school students will receive specific recommendations to avoid remediation in college in summer 2004, and can use their senior year for intensive preparation to meet CSU placement standards.

Policy implications from these three papers conclude this publication. Some of these recommendations have low- or no-cost requirements.

Suggested citationKirst, M. W., Antonio, L. A., Bersola, S. H., & Bueschel, A. C. (2004, August). Improving the transition from high school to postsecondary education [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education