The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

COLLEGE SUCCESS Not A Problem for the Incredibles

I was quoted in the Sunday, January 7, 2007 New York Times about the vast differences in college preparation between the most and the least selective colleges. As I told the Times, I have been a critic of the low end of college preparation. But at the high end, it just gets better every decade.

The Times article, The Incredibles (p. 19 of the Education Life Section), features stellar students who are taking more AP, IB, and other college level courses in high school. These students experience the high school-to-college transition as more of a lateral step and are sometimes frustrated that their college courses are too basic.

Increased competition for slots at prestigious selective colleges motivates some students to take very hard high school classes that include critical thinking, complex analysis, and sophisticated writing. At Stanford, these students are ready as freshmen to complete substantial original research. Some observers label these students as zoomers who are similar to outstanding athletes who specialize in academics at a very early age.

But my concerns are not about which selective college these students will attend. Only 5% of students are incredibles or zoomers. About 50% of students are not prepared for college. They are not ready for college and have many student risk factors that reduce college persistence. But the incredibles get much more national media attention. Community colleges, where academic or college readiness is the weakest, get the least media attention. Nevertheless, the Times article is an in-depth analysis of how our best colleges are adapting to extremely high levels of college preparation.

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