Six Ways to Improve
Students’ Preparation for College
By Jill Jenkins
According to the Center for Public Education, two-fifths of entering college freshmen are not prepared for the academic rigors of college. In Utah, according to KSL News only 25% of the students graduating from high school are actually prepared for college. The article reveals that 80% of high school students plan to attend college, but only 40% will actually enroll. Fifty percent of that 40% will drop out after only one year. Nationally, 35% of the students who enter college will drop out after one year and according to the National Trust, a Washington non-profit. 63% of those who enroll will actually earn a Bachelor Degree. Preparing students with a more rigorous curriculum of the new Common Core is one step of preparing students to graduate from college, but is there more we should be doing?
#1 Time in the Classroom
Many middle school and high school teachers complain that schools spend too much time on activities, assemblies, sport events, and helping students’ who are behind all taking much of their instruction time. With the increased rigor of the new Common Core Curriculum, teachers need more time to instruct their students. Because of “No Child Left Behind, activities like Teacher Advisory classes serving only the lowest ten percent of the students have become the focus. Teaching to the lowest common denominator does not help those with low skills. In fact, everyone's instruction suffers. Identifying why a specific student is struggling and addressing that problem with remedial classes, tutoring or incentives to attend regularly is a better approach. “Common Core Curriculum preparation and testing is another time-consumer. Even collaboration time which is important to develop appropriate teaching material depletes the time that teachers so desperately need to prepare students. The answer is the administration needs to limit the activities and programs, thus giving teaching the academic curriculum priority over activities. School can be fun, but not at students’ academic expense.
#2 Prepare Students with Learning Skills
Most colleges expect students to know how to listen to a lecture and take notes, how to read a textbook independently and identify the main points, how to create a coherent composition on demand, to have mastered mathematical skills through basic Algebra and Geometry and to exhibit an ability to manage their time and behavior well enough to study and complete assignments in a timely manner. Over time, middle school and high school teachers have virtually eliminated lecturing and note-taking because students lack those skills and their academic grades suffer. Furthermore, lecturing is not the most effective method to deliver instruction. Students lose interest quickly and fall asleep or play on their cell phones. The teachers are, in turn, badly evaluated when any student fail. Teachers and administrations need to help students develop note-taking and listening skills by practicing them. Students need to write and read in every discipline. They should not be pablum-fed the material, but given independent reading and writing assignments and given specific instruction to improve their ability to read difficult non-fiction materials and respond to questions in well-written, coherent essays. Students should be encouraged to take college preparatory courses in math, science, history and language arts. Most importantly students should be given projects where they are encouraged to plan their own time, research, write and present before a class. Gradually reducing the student’s reliance on the teacher will help the student become a more independent learner. Students who have language barriers need to have specified training to help them develop the language skills they need to be successful. In too many situations, schools have cut bi-lingual programs to save money or asked teachers “to do the best you can” with a student with no language skills assigned to a class of 35 to 40 students. This is unfair to the student developing language skills, the teachers and rest of the class.
Yes, there is a new push to eliminate homework from K-12 schools, but if students are going to be successful in college, they need to practice completing homework and studying for tests at home. Homework shouldn’t be overwhelming, but gradually should grow as the student becomes older. By the time a student is in middle school, he should be able to complete 20-30 minutes a night for each of his academic classes. This means he should expect 80 minutes to two hours of homework per night. This homework should be relevant and meaningful. Even though having a part-time job teaches responsibility, keep the hours low so the student can invest enough time on his academic career. Athletics also should be limited to an hour after school to enable the student to complete his academic studies. Parents who complain need to understand that properly preparing a student for a future will mean he/she will be able to more successfully support himself/herself financially if that student has prepared himself/herself for the rigors of a college education. It also means that often students will need to select which activities they need to be involved. No one can do everything. Still colleges look at the student’s GPA and activities when selecting students, so by no means am I saying that all extra curricular activities should be eliminated. On the contrary, be selective and choose those that the student excels. He will be happier. If he/she is successful, he could earn a scholarship based on his participation.
#4 Financial Investment
College is not cheap. The financial burden to an economically strapped family can seem overwhelming. There is financial aide available: scholarships, loans and grants. If a student works hard, he can alleviate part of the financial burden by taking Advanced Placement classes, concurrent enrollment (taking college classes while completing high school courses) or completing on-line college classes while still in high school. Keeping his grade point average high and participating in activities like debate, drama, speech, sports or the arts could help the student qualify for scholarships. Grants and loans are available for students with low-income. Many teachers and parents discourage students from applying for loans fearing that if the child does not succeed, he/she will be overburdened with debt in a time when finding employment can be difficult The New York Times article “Reports Shows Low Graduation Rates at For-Profit Colleges, that the truth is according to “Subprime Opportunity,” only 22% of student enrolled in private for-profit colleges graduate, compared to 55% from public colleges and 65% from private non-profit colleges. This means as a consumer, a student needs to select his college carefully, be prepared and be willing to take a financial risk that might increase his ability to provide his family a pathway out of poverty. More importantly, never let a dream be deferred.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
#5 A Map a Pathway to a Future
“Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain't no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart.”
A good teacher helps students find the roads of their future and show them how they might achieve them. Many students are just afraid to leave the comfort of high school and move on to college; many students are the first generation to attend college and their parents’ fear of losing their child to a strange world in which they have no experience; and many students lack the motivation to take the first steps to their future. Whatever problem is holding the child back, the school needs to address. Workshops for parents to introduce them to the processes of enrolling their child in college should begin in middle school and continue through high school. Workshops for students about possible career choices and education requirements for those goals should also begin in middle school. Students who have a goal when they begin their education are more likely to finish it successfully. Workshops for both students and parents about the financial aide opportunities should also be available early in the process. Keeping the students and parents informed about the student’s academic process and helping them to select courses to prepare the child for the rigors of college should begin early in the child’s education and continue. This means that a well-prepared counseling center is essential for a student to become successful. For some students language barriers may be a deterrent; however, there are resources available and the teacher needs to be aware of these resource and communicate them to the parent. Many parents may believe erroneously that because their father dropped out of school after the 8th grade and supported a family of seven as a welder, there is no need for their child to pursue a college education; however, times have changed. Most of the jobs that only require a high school education have gone overseas and opportunities for students without any education do not exist. If a student is going to earn enough money to support a family, he/she needs some form of post-high school education. If a student is planning on living comfortably, he/she needs a college degree. To help the parents understand this, schools need to begin communicating this message in elementary school especially in the lower economic neighborhoods.
#6 A Time and a Place
Finally, this is the tide of affairs in young students’ lives when the decisions they make affect them more than any other time, yet one of greatest distractions for students is the euphoria of youth. Students love to socialize. Many times that means alcohol, drugs, unprotected sexual intercourse and any number of nonsensical, dangerous behaviors. This lack of self-control has caused more than one student to drop out after one year of college. College is an expensive undertaking and students need to understand that many students throughout the world would love to have their place at that college. They are competing with every other student in the world for an education. The world has become much smaller. This means their opportunities could be snatched away by a student more motivated to study than play. Although they have watched countless movies about teenagers sent to college for a mad romp, they need to understand that those are just movies; they are not real. The reality is if they settle down and concentrate, if they accept delayed gratification, they can have a richer more prosperous life.