Academic journal article The Future of Children

Transitions from High School to College

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Transitions from High School to College

Article excerpt

As Sandy Baum, Charles Kurose, and Michael McPherson discuss in their article in this issue, the postsecondary education landscape in the United States has changed dramatically over the past half-century. (1) The aspirations and actions of the vast majority of high school students have shifted, with greater percentages of students intending to complete some form of postsecondary education. For example, from 1980 to 2002, the share of tenth graders who aspired to earn at least a bachelor's degree rose from 41 percent to 80 percent, with the largest increase coming from low-income students. (2) Unfortunately, far too many students enter college without the basic content knowledge, skills, or habits of mind needed to perform college-level work successfully. As college-going rates increase, the limitations of the traditional and current structures, programs, and practices designed to promote student success within both secondary and postsecondary education systems and institutions become more visible.

This chapter discusses transitions from high school to college and some of the major efforts under way in states and schools to improve college preparation. It begins with an overview of the problem, including estimates of the number of high school graduates who are not ready for college and the major reasons why they are not. The chapter then explores whether current conceptions of college readiness are adequate and also what it means for students to find the right college "fit." Next, it reviews some of the major interventions designed to improve college readiness, particularly among low-income students: the federal TRIO programs, the Early College High School (ECHS) and Middle College High School (MCHS) initiatives, dual-enrollment programs, California's Early Assessment Program, and statewide default curricula. Finally, it describes the Common Core State Standards movement and concludes with a discussion of both the need for more comprehensive and systemic reforms and the challenges related to implementing them.

Understanding the Problem

In recent years, roughly 3 million students have been graduating from U.S high schools annually. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 2.9 million students graduated from U.S. high schools in 2008, the last year for which data are available. (3) A key question is, how many of these students are prepared for college-level work?

College readiness is commonly understood as the level of preparation a student needs to enroll and succeed in a college program (certificate, associate's degree, or baccalaureate) without requiring remediation. (4) While there is no precise way of knowing how many high school graduates meet this standard, the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know and can do in various subject areas--the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)--suggests that many students are likely falling short. The NAEP determines students' achievement level--basic, proficient, or advanced--based on input from a broadly representative panel of teachers, education specialists, and members of the general public. Students determined to be proficient or advanced have demonstrated a competency over challenging subject matter that would be expected of entering college students, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real-world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter. In 2009, only 38 percent of twelfth-grade students performed at or above the proficient level on NAEP's reading assessment; even fewer, 26 percent, were at or above the proficient level in mathematics. (5)

Other common assessments used to determine college readiness are the ACT and SAT exams, which are typically administered to high school juniors and seniors. In 2012, only 25 percent of all ACT-tested high school graduates met the College Readiness Benchmarks in all four subjects, meaning that they earned the minimum score needed to have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a "B" or higher in corresponding first-year college courses. …

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