There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not colleges really prepare students for jobs. According to some, in our push to make college more democratic, we’ve set large numbers of students up for failure. A lot of good work is going into holding colleges accountable for students’ abysmal graduation rates. But it’s hard not to place the blame further down the chain―in the hands of the high schools who “prepared” those students for college in the first place.
Only 24 percent of ACT-tested high school graduates were deemed college ready in all four subjects tested — English, math, reading and science. As college becomes an expectation for all students, they hurt from poor preparation. In 2007-2008 an estimated 42 percent of first-year undergraduate students in two-year colleges took at least one remedial course. (Remedial courses are non-credit bearing “courses in reading, writing or mathematics for college-level students lacking those skills necessary to perform college-level work at the level required by the institution”, according to NCES.)
New standards and planned assessments attempt to raise the bar for students. And the developers of these assessments and standards have engaged higher education intentionally in the process. But better standards and assessments aren’t enough; many high school courses lack college-preparatory content. Honors, and even AP, courses are too-often advanced in name only, and succeeding in “college prep” courses does not guarantee real college preparation. A study by ACT found that even students taking the recommended college-prep curriculum were insufficiently prepared for college-level work. Incredibly, according to one report, most students taking remedial college courses graduated high school with GPA’s over 3.0.
A community college chancellor told the Chicago Sun-Times: “A lot of them don’t even know that they’re going to get tested. They have the high school diploma, they come in and, rightfully so, because nobody told them, they thought they were just going to go into college credit.”
Students who take remedial courses are significantly less likely to graduate college. As we advocate “college for all,” there’s a pressing need to better-align the content of our high school courses with the demands of college.