The challenges facing the successful development, implementation, and evolution of a comprehensive set of student supports are similar to those found in any reform effort:
- need for strong leadership (leaders who “get” the work and who are trusted by colleagues),
- staff burnout and turnover,
- sufficiently reaching all students,
- finding a way to pay for the supports.
The schools profiled in this guide all had leaders who understood the critical links between a wide range of student supports, motivation, resiliency, persistence, and achievement. If students are struggling with social, emotional, behavioral, psychological, or physical problems, they often cannot be engaged in learning—that is a central tenet adopted by the leadership and staff in all the early college schools profiled in this guide. Without this kind of understanding by school leaders, it will likely be challenging to create, or replicate, a comprehensive system of supports. Strong school leaders also enable supports to be built into the design of the school and provide opportunities for professional growth and support for school staff who are directly supporting students.
High-expectations/high-need schools appear to be more susceptible to staff burnout and turnover than traditional comprehensive schools. The time and pressure to effectively prepare students for college can be so intense that many educators at early college schools come to work early, leave late, and work on the weekends. The burnout and departures that can result from this sort of intense work environment can be extremely detrimental to the school culture, which, in turn, can affect the sustainability of the student supports described in this guide.
Reaching all students
A key to developing sustainable reforms is the approach taken by some of the schools in this guide — moving away from “little programs” scattered around and moving to universal policies and programs that enhance the capacities of all students to be college ready. This sort of reform includes developing a variety of onsite support services (e.g., health and wellness centers and after-school programs), and integrating all these support services into the school’s design and structure (Grubb & Anyon, 2011).
Paying for supports
Typical school budgets are lean on funding for student support personnel and programs. Underfunding student support is itself a barrier to preparing underserved students for college. Following two principles in this guide—school design and skilled staffócan ameliorate the challenge of funding because student support is then etched into the fabric of the school and across the staff. As budgets get tighter, early college schools recognize the need to protect the classroom and student supports when making budget decisions. They also may dedicate greater amounts of their budgets towards student supports through techniques such as reallocating staff from teaching lines to support functions (if more students participate in dual enrollment courses taught by postsecondary instructors) and through grant funding and donations. Since many of these strategies may be difficult to† sustain for a long time, future funding policies should note that the costs for student supports may be offset by reduced overall costs in the education pipeline. That is, helping all students become college ready can reduce the need for remediation in college and improve time-to-degree by graduating more high school students who are prepared for learning in the college environment.