Monday, October 24, 2011

Are College Students Really Underprepared?

ExamSome alarming studies have been published in the last decade which show many graduates of American high schools are not prepared for entry-level college coursework. The percentages given in the various studies differ widely, but one found approximately half of all students entering post-secondary institutions (40 percent of those entering four-year colleges and 60 percent of those entering two-year colleges) are required to take remedial courses in math, reading, or both before beginning entry-level college courses.

What makes a student ready for college? Obviously academic experience is key. Students who take more high school courses in English, math, and science have greater success in college and are more likely to complete a college degree. Students with higher ACT and SAT scores also tend to be more successful in college. However, other factors play a role, and more than just academic knowledge is necessary to make a smooth transition to college.

Some non-academic skills critical to scholarly success include time management, goal-setting, and enough self-esteem to believe one is able to do college-level work. Courses on conventional campuses and online college classes both require students to work much more independently, with less supervision and teacher assistance, than do high school courses. Higher-level critical thinking skills are also required.

Studies show fundamental differences in expectations between the standardized tests used in many states to qualify students for high school graduation, and those used by many universities to determine placement in remedial or entry-level coursework. High school graduation tests in math contain items more likely to be open-ended and set in realistic situations, while college admission and placement tests require logic, procedural knowledge, and problem-solving. High school tests also rarely include material beyond first-year algebra, but college tests routinely include material in second-year algebra and trigonometry. In tests of reading, high school tests measure comprehension using multiple choice questions, while college tests assess students' ability to draw inferences and conclusions.

There are also significant differences between coursework requirements for high school graduation and for college admission. In many states, students who have taken the courses required for high school graduation haven't met the minimum requirements for college admission.

Many studies have recommended closer collaboration between high school and university curriculum planners so that college-level thinking skills are developed much earlier. Some states are changing their high school graduation requirements to coincide with college entrance requirements, but much more work needs to be done to ensure that consistency nationwide. Efforts are also underway in many communities to encourage more academic rigor in middle school.

Unfortunately, the gap between high school graduation and college readiness isn't one that can be bridged overnight. It will take a concerted effort by educators, lawmakers, universities, and students themselves to make the necessary strides.

This is a guest post by Marina Salsbury.  Marina planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise.