20 April 2008

Ready for College?

From EdNews, an article out yesterday discusses the issue that somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 percent of graduating high schoolers are not prepared for college English. The article asks an interesting question:

Why should students, who jump all the required hurdles, in Massachusetts, Texas and California (and elsewhere) to be awarded a high school diploma in a graduation ceremony, find, when they enter the college to which they have been accepted and for which they believe themselves to have been academically prepared, that 37% or 46% or more of them, are judged not capable of college-level work and must enroll in remedial courses in order to (again) earn a place in college?
I’ll give two answers. First, the expectation that most students need to get a college education is misplaced. When asked why most (or all) students need to get a college degree, two reasons which are generally given are higher individual income and that it produces a more rounded individual. Both are somewhat false arguments. Income does not equal a happier or more moral person. Becoming well rounded does not require sitting in a university classroom for four years after high school – rather it is a product of life-long learning. The bottom line is that most high school graduates do not need to go to college; most would probably be better off educationally and financially attending vocational training. That they do go to college is more a result of money.

The economy of colleges and universities is, I believe, the reason why most high school graduates are expected to go to college. More students equal more income for colleges, and students’ buying power is heavily subsidized by student loans. That income is supplemented by direct and indirect government subsidies in the form of tax breaks and tax exempt endowments. If students have to take remedial courses in order to be prepared for the work, then that is all the better for the college.

If we teach our students how to think logically and how to convey those thoughts, then students will be prepared to be life-long learners. If that road then leads them to college, all the better. They will be fairly well prepared for it. If it doesn’t, they are still apt to be life-long learners. That (as the article mentions) students are too often pushed to emote (even in math and science classes) rather than think critically belies a problem with overall approaches toward education. All students emote – it’s easy. The easy is the enemy of learning and it will not prepare students for life-long learning, let alone college.

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