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.

Ready or Not For Broad Access College? Guest Blogger Katheryn Horton, Sonoma State

Ready, or not, for college


As a mother of a high school junior and freshman, and coordinator of a college preparation program through Sonoma State University, I have been closely tracking the journey of the five high school seniors profiled by The Press Democrat. I got choked up reading about their college admissions let-downs, as well as their triumphs, knowing that these emotions will be heightened next year as my son rides the college acceptance/rejection roller-coaster.

But I also noticed there was an issue not covered in these articles, and one that I think needs close attention: the lack of college knowledge among most high school students.

While reading the stories of these five highly motivated kids, I concluded that they have all probably been well-informed of what is required of them to go to college. They have selected the appropriate high school "path" early on to make sure they take the correct college-required classes; taken rigorous courses throughout high school; known how to study for the SATs; and been made aware of resources that are available to them when filling out college applications.

In addition, these students, who all had their sights set on highly competitive institutions, have been provided with feedback throughout their high school career that have told them what it takes to get into -- and be successful in college.

But for the majority of high school seniors who will be attending less competitive and open-access colleges (like many of the CSUs and all of the community colleges), clear feedback about preparation and standards for a postsecondary education is muddy at best. Since it is generally perceived to be easy to enter so many four-year and two-year schools, there are scant incentives to work hard in high school. Once students enroll in these colleges, they face challenging placement exams, faculty expectations and general education and graduation requirements that they often don't know about.

The consequence of these unknowns is represented in the number of incoming college freshmen who have to take remedial math or English courses, and of those who drop out all together. Remediation rates in college are staggering: 60 percent of students at the CSU and nearly 75 percent at community colleges must take what are essentially high-school level classes in either math or English.

Those who have to remediate in college take a far longer time to graduate and are much more inclined to give up on their education. And they must pay tuition fees for these remedial classes even though these classes do not provide units toward graduation.

Education policy must change as state policy steers more and more students toward college. Not only must high schools and college curriculum be better aligned but students must be well informed during the K-12 years of what it takes to be a successful college student (and that the community college is, in fact, a college and not a place to start thinking about applying oneself.)

In an effort to short-cut needed policy changes, the CSU, together with statewide education stakeholders, has created an 11th-grade college-readiness assessment in which students can get an idea about how prepared they are for college-level English and math.

The assessment is free, convenient and the first of its kind in the nation. It is part of the CSU's effort to reduce remediation at their institutions, but it's also a great tool for students planning to attend community college. This college-readiness assessment is part of the CSU's Early Assessment Program, which focuses also on curriculum issues and more personalized feedback efforts for high school students.

High school juniors can voluntarily take the assessment during the time they are taking their math and English California Standards Tests (STAR). (Schools arrange for the writing portion of the assessment at a separate time.) The assessment appears at the end of both these tests, and scores are delivered to parents and students on the same results letter they get from the STAR exam.

Students receiving a score of "Prepared for College" in either of these subject areas are awarded exemptions from taking college placement tests, if they are planning to go to a CSU, and can start right in with college-level courses. Students who score as "Not Yet Prepared" are encouraged to take appropriate classes and put forth the effort to become better prepared during senior year.

CSU administrators and educators realize this effort is in no way a panacea for the college remediation issue, but it's their way, right now at least, to contend with this remediation beast and at the same time help increase college knowledge among high school students, teachers and administrators.

Katheryn Horton is a Santa Rosa resident and the Early Assessment Program coordinator for Sonoma State University.

Copyright 2006 My College Puzzle