Research Supporting Ramp-Up to Readiness™

Ramp-Up to Readiness™ was designed between 2008 and 2012 through extensive review of scholarly research and intensive engagement in Minnesota secondary schools. Some of the key evidence that was used to develop and improve Ramp-Up to Readiness is described below.

Why All Students and Schools Need Ramp-Up to Readiness

  • In the 21st-century economy, completion of a postsecondary credential or degree is the best—and in many cases the only—path to a middle- or upper-class income and standard of living. 1
  • By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the United States will require postsecondary education and training. 2
  • The rest of the world is investing in postsecondary success while college completion rates in the United States have been relatively flat. As a result, although the United States ranked 3rd in college graduation rates among the developed countries of the world in 1998, in 2012 the U.S. ranked 13th. 3
  • The demographic groups that are growing fastest within our preK–12 schools are those that have the least experience preparing for and making the transition to higher education: students of color and low-income students. 4

Findings that Influenced the Design of Ramp-Up to Readiness

An expert panel convened by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences identified the following strategies as having sufficient research evidence to help more students successfully navigate the path from high school to college. 5 Ramp-Up helps schools implement each of these strategies in powerful, yet practical, ways:

  1. Helping students understand what constitutes a college-ready curriculum and the importance of beginning preparation early, and helping schools create a culture of achievement
  2. Using evidence tools so that students are aware of how prepared they are for college, and assist them in overcoming deficiencies as they are identified
  3. Surrounding students with adults and peers who build and support their college going aspirations, and support them in exploring career fields
  4. Engaging and assisting students in completing the critical steps for college entry (including the differences between tech, two and four-year options)
  5. Increasing student and families’ financial awareness and helping students apply for financial aid

The developing recognition of the importance of social emotional skills (sometimes called soft skills or academic behaviors) led to Ramp-Up’s emphasis on them within its comprehensive approach. Too many college readiness programs overlook the importance of developmental readiness for success in higher education, including personal motivation, habits of persistence, and self-regulation. 6 Multiple studies show that social emotional factors such as motivation, self-discipline, and self-confidence have a significant impact on academic performance in college, 7 and that developing academic behaviors such as good study habits supports success in college. 8 Ramp-Up adopted Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept because when students believe that intelligence is not fixed and adopt a growth mindset, they choose more challenging tasks and work harder at them. 9

In addition, the following research is foundational to Ramp-Up’s comprehensive approach and the importance of starting in the middle grades and continuing through high school:

  • The vast majority of teenagers today aspire to obtain high-paying jobs and to attain high-levels of status within society as adults. One major study found that more than 90 percent of high school seniors expect to attend college and more than 70 percent expect to work in professional jobs. Those students often, however, do not understand what they need to do to reach those objectives. 10
  • American students receive highly confusing and contradictory information about what it takes to gain access to and succeed in college. Consequently, many make decisions and put forward levels of effort that undermine their chances of succeeding in higher education. 11
  • The content of many high school courses is misaligned with what students need to know and be able to do in college, which leads many students to believe that they are much readier for postsecondary success than, in fact, they actually are. 12
  • Many students believe that how hard they work in high school has little relevance to their future careers. 13
  • Career guidance can have its largest impact in the middle grades 14
  • Students who develop formal plans for college and a career are much more likely to take the high school classes that will prepare them for success in higher education and the workforce 15
  • High-skill jobs that do not require a college degree but that pay well and offer opportunities for advancement require levels of knowledge and skill in mathematics and reading that are similar to the levels required for success in credit-bearing first-year college courses 16
  • Many high school students choose colleges for which they are academically overqualified or underqualified 17

Research on Implementation of Ramp-Up to Readiness

Following the implementation of Ramp-Up to Readiness™ in middle and high schools across Minnesota in the fall of 2012, two quasi-experimental design studies were launched by the Midwest Regional Education Laboratory (funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences) to evaluate the impact that participation in Ramp-Up to Readiness has on postsecondary aspirations, readiness, enrollment and other educational outcomes. The initial study focused on implementation and found that in the first year of implementation, schools implementing Ramp-Up provided more emphasis on four of the five dimensions of readiness than non-Ramp-Up schools 18 Staff generally had a favorable view of the program.

The second study focused on Ramp-Up’s impact, although it was limited to the first year of implementation in the study schools. The study found that staff in Ramp-Up schools reported more college-oriented activity and students in those schools perceived more emphasis on admissions and financial readiness than did their counterparts in comparison schools 19 These are critical first steps in changing a school’s culture into one where all students are expected and prepared to graduate and pursue some form of postsecondary education.

We know that it takes several years for significant system change to be effectively implemented and impact student behavior, but it all begins with early and regular addressing the importance of postsecondary with students and staff. To that end we supported an independent evaluation by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), which was completed in January 2015. A survey of principals found that 100% believed Ramp-Up was helping prepare students to make informed decisions about post-secondary education, and was helping to create a college-going culture in their school. In interviews principals stated:

  1. “The biggest thing is now having a common vocabulary on planning—planning for the future in general. Before, when you would ask students what they plan to do, they just gave you a blank look. Now they have plans in place.”
  2. “We now define [college] as anything after secondary, from one to four years, including certificate programs . . . I think it has helped to have the mindset that there is a place for everybody…even our special education students.”
  3. “I get the sense from students that they are talking a lot with each other about how to apply to college…there is peer pressure to get on it and move through the steps.”
  4. “At a recent parent meeting, many of those parents had not been to college, but they were very positive about the program. They have seen drastic changes in their students’ attitude towards school and post-secondary plans. I have never received a negative comment from parents over all of the years we have been in the Ramp Up program.”
  5. “We are seeing improved attendance, more students choosing to be in higher level courses, and more students exploring out in college visits. I think that the majority of this change is due to what is happening with Ramp Up.”

We also engage in ongoing study of Ramp-Up schools in order to steadily improve the program. For example, in 2016-17 we actively supported a large suburban district implementing Ramp-Up for the first time, by leading staff learning, conducting walkthroughs, and interviewing school and district-level staff. The findings have informed curricular decisions made about the program and have added depth to our understanding of how schools implement the program (J. Kunze, personal communication, May, 2016 – May, 2017).

  1. Goldin, C. & Katz, L. (2008). The Race between Education and Technology.

  2. Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2013). Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

  3. Bowen, W., Chingos, M., & McPherson, M. (2009). Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities. Princeton: Princeton University Press. OECD (2012), Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing, Paris.

  4. Davis, J., & Bauman, K. (2013). School Enrollment in the United States: 2011. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau. Minnesota Commissioner of Administration (2016). The Economic Status of Minnesotans: A Chartbook with Data for 17 Cultural Groups.

  5. Tierney, W. G., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do: A practice guide (NCEE #2009-4066). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

  6. Savitz-Romer, M., & Bouffard, S. M. (2012). Ready, Willing, and Able: A Developmental Approach to College Access and Success. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

  7. ACT, Inc. (2007). The Role of Nonacademic Factors in College Readiness and Success. ACT., Inc. Retrieved at Farrington, C.A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T.S., Johnson, D.W., & Beechum, N.O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Brazen Life Blog. (2013, April 2). When your college degree has more value than you think. Retrieved from Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016). [Graph Education Matters]. Earnings and Unemployment Rates by Educational Attainment, 2015. Retrieved from

  8. Carini, R. M., Kuh, G. D., & Klein, S. P. (2006). Student engagement and student learning: Testing the linkages. Research in Higher Education, 47(1), 1–32.

  9. Dweck, C., & Master, A. (2009). Self-Theories and Motivation: Students’ Beliefs About Intelligence. In Handbook of Motivation in School. New York: Routledge Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots, 2017. Retrieved from

  10. Schneider, B., & Stevenson, D. (1999). The Ambitious Generation: America’s Teenagers, Motivated But Directionless. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  11. Kirst, M. & Reeves Bracco, K. (2004); “Bridging the Great Divide: How the K-12 and Postsecondary Split Hurts Students, and What Can Be Done About It.” In Kirst, M. and Venezia, A., eds., From High School to College: Improving Opportunities for Success in Postsecondary Education (Jossey-Bass)

  12. Conley, D. (2005). College Knowledge: What It Really Takes Students to Succeed and What We Can Do to Get Them Ready. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

  13. Rosenbaum, J. E., & Person, A. E. (2003). Beyond college for all: policies and practices to improved transitions into college and jobs. Professional School Counseling, 64, 252-260

  14. Hughes, K., & Karp, M. (2004). School-Based Career Development: A Synthesis of the Literature. Institute of Education and the Economy, Teachers College, Columbia University

  15. Orfield, G., & Paul, F. (1994). High Hopes, Long Odds: A Major Report on Hoosier Teens and the American Dream. Indianapolis: Indiana Youth Institute.

  16. ACT, Inc. (2006). Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different? ACT, Inc.

  17. Roderick, M. et. al. (2008). From High School to the Future: Potholes on the Road to College. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research

  18. Lindsay, J., Davis, E., Stephan, J., Bonsu, P., & Narlock, J. (2016). Ramping up for college readiness in Minnesota high schools: Implementation of a schoolwide program (REL 2016–146). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

  19. Lindsay, J., Davis, E., Stephan, J., & Proger, A. (2017). Impacts of Ramp-Up to Readiness™ after one year of implementation (REL 2017–241). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved from

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