See PSAM in action: Miami-Dade

What is PSAM?

Postsecondary Success Asset Mapping (PSAM) uses the researched-based PSAM survey and set of tools to help schools determine, implement, and continuously improve strategies and supports to better guide ALL students, especially those underserved, toward successful college and career pathways. Starting with the PSAM survey, schools begin to create a common vision and language of postsecondary success among staff, partners, and other stakeholders by collecting data on the key asset areas of college and career readiness in order to:

  • Assess strengths and challenges;
  • Prioritize the most critical needs around college and career readiness;
  • Identify and align resources for the greatest impact; and
  • Develop and implement action plans to better prepare their students for college and career.

The tools and resources that make up PSAM were developed by FHI 360 and piloted and refined in 10 public high schools in Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as part of the Postsecondary Success Collaborative (PSC), an initiative led by FHI 360 with exciting results for students. A third-party evaluator, Equal Measure, found that PSC had overwhelming success in increasing the numbers of underserved students who successfully transitioned to and persisted in college. These results reflect a cohort of 4,500 students beginning in 9th and 10th grades through enrollment in sophomore year of college (class of 2012) and enrollment in the first year (class of 2013). In explaining the impressive gains outlined below, the evaluation identified PSAM as a central component of the work of PSC schools and their partners. To date, over 12,000 students have been touched by PSC.

How did PSAM help bring about these results when years of other efforts did not? PSAM is not a program; rather it enables schools and their partners to do ongoing and focused analysis of its college and career readiness activities, supports, and services using a research-based lens on what is essential for all students to have postsecondary success, including academic preparedness, learning skills, and knowledge about college and career.

PSAM includes the survey, which collects data on four asset areas of college and career readiness focused directly on students and a fifth asset on a school’s systems. The survey is user-friendly and is taken anonymously by school staff and other key partners. The data from the survey provides a snapshot of what the school has, what is missing, what is strong, what needs improvement. From there, the PSAM process is to conduct and analyze the survey data, identify areas of strength and improvement, set priorities, and develop and carry out feasible action plans.

This PSAM toolkit provides not only the survey, but also the guidance and resources (activities, agendas, templates) for integrating the PSAM process into the school improvement work of the school, beginning with advice on how school leaders can introduce PSAM to the school community.

For questions or to get started with PSAM, contact FHI 360 at or FHI 360 will send to a designated point person an email with a link that will enable staff and partners to participate in the PSAM survey. After completing the survey, each school will receive a data report with aggregated survey data, which can then be exported into an Excel spreadsheet.

The next section provides an overview of the urgency of this work and then explains the five assets. The final section helps readers to determine is PSAM the right choice for us?

The urgent need for improving postsecondary access and success for all students

The number of students in the United States who attend a postsecondary institution is currently at an all-time high. Almost 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in either a two- or four-year postsecondary institution within two years of graduating high school(1). At face value, it would seem that we have something to celebrate. But consider statistics such as these:

  • Remediation. Over half (51.7%) of students entering a two-year college, enroll in non-credit-bearing remediation classes. Fewer than half of this 51.7% of students have graduated within two to three years:
    • Only 22.3% of those students complete their remediation and earn their associate’s degrees in 2 years
    • Only 9.5% graduate within three years(2).
  • Socio-economics and Race.
    • Only 25 % of students attend full time at a residential college(3) and the majority of these students are from affluent families(4).
    • Fewer than half of the African American, Latino, and low-income students complete a four-year degree program in less than six years. Most take longer than that(5).
  • Part-time.
    • 37% of students attend part time, often juggling families, jobs, and school(6).
    • Part time students rarely graduate, even when given twice the time(7).

Most students in high school follow a relatively narrow pathway that is focused exclusively on academic skills and college prep without linking these skills and knowledge to relevant education or career objectives or work-related experiences. This pathway leads to success for a small number of students, again particularly those who come from affluent families(8), but not for most. In fact, for low-income students, first generation college goers, recent immigrants, and for many males of color, this disconnected, often fragmented pathway leads to a dead end, or worse, a mountain of debt, no degree, and few or no job opportunities. Be they full or part-time, enrolled at two -or four-year institutions, African Americans and Latinos degree attainment lags behind their peers. The challenges that need to be addressed to turn around these statistics can be daunting, but when educators and their partners attend to each one of the critical assets students need for postsecondary success, ALL students can succeed regardless of factors such as race and zip code.

What college and career readiness looks like—the Assets

College and career readiness is being able to succeed in a credit-bearing entry-level college course at a four-year or two-year college, or in a technical certificate program without the need to take non-credit-bearing remedial classes (9).

College and career readiness is not an add-on program that a school does in addition to educating its students. It is central to what it means to prepare students for a successful postsecondary experience.

Being able to succeed in credit-bearing courses means having the academic skills, knowledge, and motivation to do so, but it also includes social emotional, learning and transition skills, including:

  • Learning the cultural and social norms of a postsecondary institution;
  • Being able to navigate new and complex social relationships;
  • Knowing how to access college and career resources;
  • Understanding the nuances and expectations at the college and career levels;
  • Managing one's own financial resources;
  • Having the study and learning skills to work independently;
  • Having the collaboration skills to work with peers and incorporate critical feedback from
  • Knowing how to use information technology in appropriate and effective ways.

The five assets for postsecondary access and success

  1. Key Transition Knowledge and Skills
  2. Key Content Knowledge
  3. Learning Skills and Techniques
  4. Cognitive Skills
  5. School-wide Systems

The framework for PSAM is based on the dimensions of college and career readiness developed by David T. Conley and others(10). In addition to the four central asset areas, FHI 360 added a fifth to acknowledge the need for a school-wide culture and commitment to postsecondary success to be anchored by workable systems. The five assets are defined below.

Each asset must begin to be taught, developed, and cultivated as early as possible— ideally by middle school and certainly no later than 9th grade.

Key Transition Knowledge and Skills: What students in my school are doing to build their knowledge and access to college and career.

Key transition knowledge and skills as they relate to postsecondary education often are culturally transmitted or assumed to be so. Students for whom college is a given garner much of this knowledge and skills through preferences, beliefs, and norms of behavior emanating from both home and school. On the other hand, the students who are first generation college goers and/or economically disadvantaged are least likely to be exposed to this crucial set of knowledge and skills unless they are specifically taught by educators, employers or mentors. For many students, acquiring these skills and knowledge means adapting in a positive way to a new culture. The message that all students can succeed and excel in college and career is an important cultural norm for schools and families to adopt together (11). Specific skills in the asset of Key Transition Knowledge and Skills include:

  • College admissions requirements and expectations
  • Different types and kinds of postsecondary institutions (e.g., community, 4-year, state, city)
  • Career pathways and the gatekeeping and pre-requisite coursework needed
  • Tuition costs and financial aid options
  • College-going culture (navigating relationships, understanding expectations, accessing available resources)
  • Norms, values, and conventions of collaborating and working with peers, professors, co-workers
  • Expectations of non-remedial level course work

Key Content Knowledge: What students in my school are doing to build their content knowledge in the core subject areas

Key content knowledge refers to the core content area subjects, the foundational knowledge from English, Math, History, and Science.

Almost all of these skills are clearly defined and described in the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the goal of which is to define the knowledge and skills students need to graduate from high school ready to succeed in credit-bearing, entry-level college courses and in entry-level workforce training programs. Schools can use such resources both to both the curriculum and assess their students' knowledge and skills development. Specific knowledge in the asset of Key Content Knowledge includes:

  • Understanding key concepts and big ideas
  • Mastering different writing genres, structures and formats
  • Content area literacy

Learning Skills and Techniques: What students in my school are doing to take ownership of their learning and develop their learning skills

One of the most overlooked aspects of preparing students for postsecondary success is developing their agency over their own learning, and their ability to work independently and outside of class. Since a significant amount of time in a postsecondary educational setting is devoted to completing assignments, papers, and projects outside of the classroom, students need to learn how to effectively manage this time. Many students are blindsided by the amount of work they are expected to do outside of class and are ill prepared to develop a study plan for weekly work or longer:term projects. Teaching students how to learn effectively and enjoyably will help them to persist when faced with challenges and obstacles and are some of the most important skills they will need to succeed in college and the workforce. Learning Skills and Techniques cut across all disciplines and fields and specifically include the following:

  • Time management
  • Decision making
  • Study skills
  • Self-control and self-monitoring
  • Setting and tracking goals
  • Persistence in completing tasks and reaching goals
  • Student agency over learning

Cognitive Skills: What students in my school are doing to develop their critical thinking skills

These describe the kinds of thinking skills that students need to master in order to succeed in college-level work and the workforce. They include many of the higher-order thinking skills such as reasoning, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creation, but they also include what Dr. David Conley has defined as precision and accuracy, or knowing to what degree of refinement is needed for a particular task or assignment, and knowing how close to a pattern, convention, or standard a task or assignment must be (12). These are skills that cut across all disciplines and fields. Specifically, the Key Cognitive Skills include:

  • Formulating problems, developing hypotheses, and aligned solutions
  • Conducting research, collecting data, evaluating sources, using internet sources appropriately
  • Interpreting and analyzing information and data
  • Communicating in a variety of modes and modalities
  • Demonstrating precision and accuracy at every step

School-wide Systems: What my school is doing to develop and sustain systems for improving college and career outcomes for our students

While schools can control for many of the factors that lead to postsecondary success—the four assets just described—students come to school with a variety of opportunities and barriers, some of which a school cannot directly influence. What schools can do is understand how those barriers and opportunities affect student participation in school programs, and how school policies, allocation of resources, and programs reach those students who need them most.

To improve the college and career outcomes of their students, schools must reflect on how their practices, policies, and programs mitigate, exacerbate, or overlook these additional factors and identify appropriate steps to improve outcomes for all students.

To look at the issues around these barriers, FHI 360 identified a fifth asset, School-wide Systems: What my school is doing to develop and sustain systems for improving college and career outcomes for our students. The components of this asset cut across the four other asset areas. They can have a significant impact on a school's programs, policies, and culture, thereby leading to positive change for the college and career readiness of its students. The components of this fifth crosscutting asset are:

  • Use of data
  • Diversity and equity
  • Family engagement
  • Partnerships with external organizations
  • Staff development and support

Importance of strategic partnerships and how PSAM can help

The array of supports needed to get all students on the path to enroll and succeed in college and career—from rigorous academic preparation, to the development of self- monitoring skills, to managing the college application and financial aid process, to providing workforce experience and skills—requires schools to connect with and/or broker supports and services from outside partnerships with community organizations, civic groups, government and business organizations, and institutes of higher education, and other local stakeholders.

These partners can work with schools to provide enrichment programs and services to students—particularly Black and Latino males starting in the 9th grade—to keep them on track. Partner organizations can also provide internships, job shadowing, or other valuable work-based learning experiences for students. Partnerships with institutes of higher education can lead to dual enrollment, visits to college classrooms, and college mentors. High school and college faculty can also engage in shared professional development to better align instruction.

See PSAM in action: Philadelphia

Schools that work with several partner organizations may find in the beginning that each organization has a different definition of what it means for a student to be college and career ready. By providing a comprehensive, research-based framework, along with an easy to use tool to determine assets and needs in each area of postsecondary readiness, PSAM helps create a common vision and language among the participants, so everyone involved better understands areas where they are effective at meeting students' needs and areas that need improvement.


PSAM is the right approach for your school if you want to:

  • Take a snapshot of how your school is helping students develop the knowledge and skills that will make them both college and career ready.
  • Develop a shared understanding and a place to start or continue the conversation with your staff and partner organizations about what college and career readiness means and looks like.
  • Set goals for improving the academic and non-academic program coordination and quality for all students within the context of continuous school improvement.
  • Give the school improvement team and/or designated PSAM team a place to start identifying goals and priorities and to help them identify other sources of data to analyze in order to set goals and plan for improvement.
  • Develop a prioritized and realistic plan to prepare all students for postsecondary success starting in the 9th grade.
  • Capture a variety of personal knowledge of and experience with students and families.
  • Develop a clear picture of your school’s assets and resources to help students who are most in need—particularly Black and Latino students—to enroll and persist in a two- or four-year colleges, or technical career certificate program.
  • Use data to make decisions about the use and effectiveness of your school’s resources related to college and career readiness.
  • Identify and reduce redundancy and fragmentation in the supports and services provided.
  • Engage multiple partner organizations that provide important supports and services to your students, but have little coordination, communication, and understanding between and among them.

PSAM is NOT the right choice for your school if you want to:

  • Implement an evaluation tool or a check-list. PSAM provides neither. It is not expected that a school is doing everything listed in the PSAM survey; rather it’s provides a long-term vision that schools need to prioritize how to move towards year by year.
  • Collect quantitative information about ethnicity, race, gender, socio-economic status, IEP status, or other demographic data. PSAM survey provides a framework and a set of protocols to help your school both look at the PSAM survey data, but also identify and analyze other sources of data that are important to improving the college and career readiness of ALL students, particularly those students who are most underserved.

Furthermore, PSAM is not a strong fit if:

  • You do not have a leadership team or school improvement team that is willing to integrate this work into the overall school improvement effort.
  • Your principal is not supporting this work.