Equalizing College Readiness, Access, and Success

by Sarah Wolfe, Director of Student Engagement – University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College / Sep 4, 2019

I believe education has the potential to be the great equalizer. Education can serve as the transformative catalyst allowing anyone to embrace their passion and live their dream, regardless of identity and background. That said, we have much work to do in equalizing student academic, financial, and social readiness for college, access to education, and support systems to champion success (i.e., graduation). My role, then, as a student-affairs professional, is to continuously work to improve readiness, access, and success in college for all young people, especially for our underserved student populations.

CPS Strong is a new initiative that is a part of the strategic direction of the University of Cincinnati. The CPS acronym stands for Cincinnati Public Schools, which is the local public school system in Cincinnati. CPS students represent 20% of all racially minoritized students at the University of Cincinnati. This is quite high considering all CPS students only represent 4% of the entire student body. Our readiness, access, and success data show a continuous disparity between CPS students and non-CPS students.

For example, the “summer melt” (a term used to describe the common phenomenon of high school graduates applying to college, being accepted, indicating plans to enroll but ultimately not enrolling) for CPS students is 17.5% compared to 12.6% for all other students; similarly, the retention rate of CPS students is 56.7% compared to 80.3% for non-CPS students. CPS Strong requires both a sobering reflection of these statistics and a call to action for our community to respond with culturally responsive practices to close the gap and create a more equitable education system in our city.

Bearcats TrackerAs a CPS Strong champion at our regional college—UC Blue Ash College—I have lead the charge on two major projects to attack these disparities. One approach has been the design and dissemination of the Bearcats Tracker (seen at right). This interactive flipchart is a fun and creative tool that helps students consider their academic, financial, and social responsibilities to prepare for successful college enrollment starting when they are in the eighth grade. The tool includes tidbit-sized information and one to-do item per area each year to make the college plan realistic and attainable.

Another approach has included a pilot of Success Coaching—a high-touch wraparound, academic, financial, and social support for students provided through monthly meetings and consistent intermittent outreach via text, email, and phone calls. Four full-time success coaches supported 290 students who identified as Pell-eligible, first-generation, and/or from an underrepresented racially minoritized group. In its pilot year we saw significant gains in both quantitative and qualitative benchmarks of student success. For example, students who paired with a success coach were 3.2% more likely to enroll in their second semester, with a .048 GPA increase and 7.2% course completion increase.  

Coaches are able to identify barriers to student success early in the semester and often find that barriers are largely outside the classroom. This includes issues such as transportation, funding for nontuition expenses, and housing and food insecurity. The Bearcats Tracker is intended to help students consider various potential barriers and make a success plan before enrolling in college. With coaches’ early knowledge of these barriers, there are opportunities for intentional interventions that can support students on a path to success before it is “too late.”

Ultimately, my hope is that with the support of CPS Strong, we are able to create culturally responsive practices that are successful with this particular population of CPS students. From there, we can scale our efforts beyond CPS Strong and continue to improve college readiness, access, and success for all racially minoritized students.


Sarah Wolfe is an Engaging Excellence in Equity Fellow who has participated in convenings designed to identify culturally responsive practices and further support-building evidence and capacity for this work. Learn more about this project.