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Applying the ACT Holistic Framework to College and Career Readiness: From Research to Action

Almost two years ago, the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships (NCCEP) welcomed Career & College Clubs into its portfolio of programs. The journey since, expanding the program’s content and sharpening its impact, would have been more difficult–and less successful–without the ACT Holistic Framework and partnership with the ACT research team.

The Career & College Clubs program was created ten years ago by the nonprofit ALL Management Corporation for the purpose of helping middle school students get an early start on college and career planning. The program transferred to NCCEP in 2016, with the intent of reaching more students.

As the national voice for the federally-funded Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program, NCCEP works with entities across the country to ensure underserved students have the opportunity, skills, and knowledge they need to pursue their career and life goals through the completion of postsecondary education. Career & College Clubs was a welcome addition to NCCEP’s portfolio of content and services.

But there was one immediate program need: to expand the Career & College Clubs curriculum to include high school students. The GEAR UP program serves students from 7th through 12th grade, and typically into the first year of college. For Career and College Clubs to effectively serve GEAR UP students, the curriculum needed to be expanded, updated, and further grounded in a research framework.

Enter ACT and the Holistic Framework.

NCCEP and ACT have partnered on a number of initiatives, so it was natural for us to initiate a conversation when we started this project. The discussion resulted in many good ideas which, in turn, led to a robust, year-long collaboration.

At the heart of that collaboration was ACT’s Holistic Framework, a guidepost for defining an individual’s preparation and success beyond academics to include factors that encompass college and career readiness. What Career & College Clubs had been doing in a piecemeal, almost serendipitous way, ACT had codified and systematized in the Holistic Framework. The Holistic Framework’s acknowledgement that academic readiness alone is not sufficient preparation for college and career success strongly resonated with Career and College Clubs’ on-the-ground experience.

Using the Holistic Framework to inform our work, we spent most of 2017 creating the new, 7th through 12th grade edition of the Career & College Clubs curriculum.

The new curriculum is based on grade-level standards and focused on ensuring students are fully prepared to succeed after they graduate high school. Informed by the Holistic Framework, the curriculum is divided into five, interrelated content areas:

  • College and Career Preparation/Readiness – Students explore their interests, career possibilities, college systems, admissions requirements, and financial aid. 
  • Academic Preparation – Students identify and demonstrate successful academic behaviors, and develop and implement academic plans for high school and beyond. 
  • Leadership Development – Students practice leadership skills and explore their relationship with their local community and the world. 
  • Social and Emotional Learning – Students identify and practice skills for managing emotions, building relationships, and decision-making. 
  • Professional Etiquette – Students learn and practice successful behaviors in professional settings, such as how to prepare a resume and interview for a job. 

The curriculum is now in schools and nonprofit organizations across the country. As we grow, our partnership with ACT has shifted from building curriculum to measuring impact. Taking the lead on measuring impact is Alex Casillas, Ph.D., ACT Principal Research Psychologist. Dr. Casillas developed a comprehensive Theory of Action and research design to measure both short and long-term impact. The results will be used not only to demonstrate impact, but also to refine the curriculum over time.

The work between NCCEP and ACT has been a true partnership. With the Holistic Framework, NCCEP has built a more effective curriculum informed by ACT’s research and expertise, and ACT will be able to measure the effects of the Holistic Framework using a robust dataset. Most importantly, thousands of students will receive the support they need to pursue their goals and aspirations.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.