At College Parents of America, we strive to provide valuable resource information to our members, as well as vigorous advocacy.

While many of my recent columns have centered around some of the key advocacy issues that we are focusing on – to serve you – here in Washington, DC, we also work to benefit you with resource information that hits home wherever you live.

One of those key resource areas involves the question of academic preparation for college, not just what it takes to get in to school, but what it takes to succeed.

In order to provide you the best possible information on this vital topic, we plan to scour the landscape for the best possible sources. And in examining the issue of middle- and secondary-school preparation as a precursor to undergraduate success, we were thrilled to learn recently of project called “Standards for Success,” a joint effort of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Pew Charitable Trust.

The excellent work on this project was carried out by the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon, under the direction of Dr. David T. Conley.

A two-year undertaking, involving more than 400 faculty and staff members from 20 research universities, the effort was designed to identify what students must do to prepare to succeed in entry-level courses at those institutions. In addition, national academic content standards documents were analyzed and used for comparison.

The standards, published earlier this year, provide a road map for what students – and their parents – should follow as families embark on the journey of higher education.

According to Dr. Conley, “one of the most dominant themes raised by participants is the importance of the habits of mind students develop in high school and bring with them to university studies.”

“These habits are considered by many faculty members to be more important than specific content knowledge,” wrote Dr. Conley in his introduction to the report.

The habits of mind include:

  • critical thinking;
  • analytic thinking and problem solving;
  • an inquisitive mind and interest in taking advantage of what school has to offer;
  • a willingness to accept critical feedback and to adjust based on the feedback;
  • the ability to adjust to and cope with ambiguity; and
  • openness to occasional failure.

I don’t know about you, but I think these are habits that can prove useful for an entire lifetime. I’m still striving to build some of these habits, and I graduated from college in 1979.

One of the reasons that the Standards for Success project was undertaken has to do with the fact that states are, of course, increasingly adopting academic content standards and accompanying assessment systems at the elementary-, middle- and secondary-school level. The AAU and Pew logically reasoned that these standards and tests should have some relationship to university success, given that two-thirds of American high-school graduates go directly on to some of postsecondary education. So in addition to the habits of mind listed above, there is very detailed information on specific content knowledge that is expected in English, Math, the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, Second Languages and the Arts.

If you are the parent of a high-school student right now, I suspect that you are very interested in obtaining a copy of these standards yourself, so that you and your student can jointly assess their readiness for university success. At College Parents of America, we are in conversation with the AAU and the Center for Educational Policy Research in the hope that we can provide you with a complete set of the standards, either in a hard-copy booklet and/or in a PDF format. We believe that every family can benefit from understanding what it takes for university success, and we’ll keep you apprised as this conversation progresses.

Speaking of habits, don’t forget to set your clocks back this weekend. I have a habit of forgetting that myself, and arriving somewhere one hour early on the last Sunday of every October.