Editorial: College a rude awakening for the unprepared

When it comes to our high school graduates heading off to college, good may not be good enough.

       That seems to be the lesson on college preparedness we’re learning from the college entrance exam called the ACT and from studies by the nonprofit organization that administers it. What we’re finding out is that large numbers of high school graduates who enter college aren’t fully prepared to handle college-level work in English, social studies, algebra and biology.

       Here’s a telling figure from the National Center for Education Statistics: Forty percent of those who enter college immediately after high school still don’t have a two-year or four-year degree six years later. That’s a lot of money spent by parents, governments and private groups on college tuition, room and board without diplomas to show for it.

       ACT Inc., has studied thousands of college students and their performance in four core areas for which it tests, as mentioned above. From our story on A1 today, the ACT suggests the following:

       Students need to score at least 18 out of 36 on the ACT English test to have a 75 percent chance of getting a C in freshman English composition at an “average” college. They need a math score of 22 to pass college algebra; a science score of 24 to pass college biology, and a reading score of 21 to pass a college social studies course.

       Unfortunately, even though about two-thirds of Michigan high school grads are headed to college, only about 16 percent are deemed to be ready for college based on their ACT test scores. Many will have to take remedial courses in order to proceed. Many will take longer than four years to finish their degrees. And many will wash out or leave school without completing their degree requirements.

       What’s the problem here?

       Well, one problem is that many students aren’t taking the right courses in middle school and high school to prepare them for higher education. Parents may not know which courses are needed at which stages of K-12 education to prepare their children properly. And though schools and counselors do their best to get students into the right courses, it really is the responsibility of parents to understand and take charge of the process.

       Another problem is that even if students take the right classes, those classes may not be rigorous enough to prepare students for what’s ahead. School districts, especially the smallest ones and the largest ones, have the most difficult time providing everything that everyone needs every time. With funding challenges increasing for our public school systems, it will be tough to change that fact any time soon.

       One factor that may help in Michigan is that high school graduation requirements have been toughened, starting with the class that will graduate in 2011. Those students will have been required to take algebra I and II, plus chemistry or physics. Many schools in the Kalamazoo region, both public and private, are working diligently to improve students’ test scores, meet new standards, increase graduation numbers and better prepare students for college. And all kinds of groups, including parents, churches, businesses, volunteers and others, have mobilized in recent years to aid the effort.

       Indeed, standardized test scores and educational outcomes generally seem to be improving in our part of the state.

       But we all need to understand that improving certain scores and statistics alone is not the goal.

       The goal, for students whose aspirations involve college degrees, is to be ready to meet the challenge of higher education, succeed and move on to meet the greater challenges in our communities and our state.