Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are Students Prepared for Community College, Let Alone 4-Year College?

Through my School Board Association, I read an article pertaining to the necessity of vertical alignment between high schools and community colleges. With even state schools such as my alma mater University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign costing some $25,000 per year for in-state students, community colleges will continue to play a vital role in education and the training of our future work force. For many, going for two years to a community college is the only feasible way of affording college. Many students go for two years, while working full-time, to save for two years at a four-year institution, allowing the student to get a bachelors degree.

What is disturbing about the article is that 58% of students in community colleges are enrolled in at least one remedial course. When a majority of high school graduates, who are supposed to be prepared for basic college courses, are in fact behind standards and need to repeat high school material, there is a glaring issue that needs to be resolved sooner than later. The same issue exists at the K-8 to high school transition here in Illinois. For years it been known that the Illinois elementary and middle school test, ISAT, has standards that are not properly aligned with the high school standards as defined by the Prairie State Exam (PSAE). Half of the PSAE is the ACT exam, meaning every junior in Illinois is taking a primary college entrance exam. Many eighth graders who meet ISAT standards are being fooled that they are ready for high school, since high school standards are set higher. It is insanity at its finest. Now it appears as if the same is true for high school to community college transitions.

How difficult is it for the powers that be to sit down and align curriculum so that students have a clearly defined path through the entire education system? Everyone is off in their own little worlds, doing their own thing, and the students are the ones who are affected. By the way, the same study, which was done by Prof. Debra Bragg of the U. of Illinois, also found that 30% of students who attend non-selective four-year schools are also enrolled in at least one remedial course. These are discouraging numbers. And anecdotally, the many professors I know from top, selective schools (such as Northwestern, UIUC, UIC, U. of Chicago, etc) state almost unanimously that there are noticeably large numbers of students who lack basic skills in areas like science, to the point where they have had to modify their curriculum. The downturn in science skills is not a total surprise, however, since science has not been part of K-12 AYP tallies in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Many districts have cut back on science, as well as social studies, because of NCLB.

The lack of preparation for community college is yet another issue that needs to be not only addressed, but fixed. It is not a well-publicized issue, but an important issue for the future.

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