While a good number of Valley high school students are entering Ohio colleges and universities after graduation, the numbers who must take remedial math and/or English classes does not speak well for their secondary school preparation. It also helps explain the difficulty of open admission universities such as Youngstown State's accommodating hundreds of students who are not ready for the rigors of higher education. Obviously, passing proficiency tests isn't enough -- at least for those headed to college.
In a comprehensive study of the state's high school graduates who went on to study at an Ohio public college or university, one thing was clear: The earlier a young person began to plan for a college education -- taking a solid core of academic subjects in high school, a minimum of four years of English and three years each of mathematics, science, and social studies -- the greater was the likelihood that they would do well in college and the less likely they would need to take remedial courses in math and English.
Lack of planning
The Ohio Board of Regents report, released July 10, showed that young people who do not expect to attend college and who thus take only the classes required for graduation too often find themselves without the preparation they need to enter regular first-year English and math classes, Instead, about 38 percent of Ohio high school students must relearn what they should have learned before graduation.
Such remedial work is not only expensive, swallowing up financial resources that would be better allocated for classes that count toward a degree, but it can prolong the time a student needs to complete a degree. Then, too, students who are unable to write and calculate at the college level may find it extremely difficult to succeed in other classes as well.
Students who graduate from well-to-do suburban school districts have the lowest need for remedial or developmental coursework, but young people graduating from high-poverty urban districts are more than twice as likely to require remediation. Nonetheless, in every type of high school district (from high income to low income) students who graduated from high school without completing the high school academic core were twice as likely to require remediation as their better prepared peers.
Taking a rigorous high school curriculum doesn't just reduce the need for remediation. Students who took the tougher classes -- whether from wealthy suburban districts, poorer city districts or rural districts -- had better grades in college than those who had taken less demanding high school classes. The report also notes that almost without exception, students who enter college without having taken a college entrance exam earn the lowest grade point average their first year of college.
Obviously, it's not the taking of the ACT or SAT that makes the difference. It's the outlook of the students who know they will be taking an exam and want to do well on it. So long before their junior or senior years, college-bound students know that every course they take is significant. They realize that succumbing to the lure of the easy class for just one year or semester may make it impossible for them to complete a necessary sequence before they graduate.
And students in higher-wealth districts have the advantage of living in a community where going to college is a normal expectation and taking the right classes is a given.
Children living in poorer districts are less likely to come to school with those expectations and are less likely to find support for college dreams among family members, friends or even school counselors.
Waiting to think about college until a high school student's senior year is not an insurmountable obstacle, but it's not a minor bump in the road either. The sooner youngsters think positively about college, the more likely it is that they can look forward to success there than failure. They should hear that message early -- and often.