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College Preparation Courses: The "Quality" in the "Qualifications" May Not Be Enough

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One of the most popular questions that is asked on StateUniversity.com is:

“What classes do I need to take now to prepare for college?”

This is an excellent question and point of topic as college-readiness in academics is one of the most important, in fact, the most important aspect in deciding a student’s success and longevity in higher education and in the work place.

Clifford Adelman, former federal researcher for the Department of Education “found that the strength of high school work was the most important factor in determining college success, more than the socioeconomic status of a student’s family.” (Arenson/NY Times, 2007)

Unfortunately, as of only a few years ago, the gap between what most high schools nationwide present and what colleges and higher education institutions expect in areas of academic sufficiency has widened, as many have reported, saddling students with burdens of remediation and failed courses. Students and parents are, in essence, being misguided.

The New York Times reported in 2007 that ACT, the Iowa testing organization, found in its research only 1 in 4 students of the 1.2 million tested met the benchmarks for college readiness, and 19% met none of the benchmarks required.

“…in recent years it has become increasingly apparent that, while taking the right number of courses is certainly better than not, it is no longer enough to guarantee that students will graduate ready for life after high school (Dougherty, Mellor, & Jian, 2006). A powerful example of this is the fact that, as defined by ACT’s national college readiness indicators, the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks, three out of four ACT-tested 2006 high school graduates who take a core curriculum are not prepared to take credit-bearing entry-level college courses with a reasonable chance of succeeding in those courses.”

-Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum. ACT 2007

College Preparation: What is Core Curriculum?

In 1983, the federal government through the Department of Education published a report entitled, “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Education Reform.” Its basis was to raise up educational standards at a time when academic performance reached new lows.

Citing numerous studies in this report that reflected such underachievement, its publisher, the National Commission on Excellence and Education, recommended that each high school student take 4 years of English; 3 years of mathematics; 3 years of science; 3 years of social studies; and one-half year of computer science to compensate. (Ed.gov, A Nation at Risk)

Since then, core curriculum has proven to be ample in its purpose of college readiness, that is, until now.

Why Isn’t Core Curriculum Working?

Sadly, ACT research is showing that core curriculum just isn’t enough to instill knowledge and readiness before entering into postsecondary learning. Students have been urged to go above and beyond the measure by taking Advanced Placement courses.

ACT research also suggests that students today do not have a reasonable chance of becoming ready for college unless they take a number of additional higher-level courses beyond the minimum core, and that even students who do take these additional higher-level courses are not always likely to be ready for college either. This finding is in part a reflection on the quality and intensity—in other words, the rigor—of the high school curriculum. Without improving the quality and content of the core, it appears that most students need to take additional higher-level courses to learn what they should have learned from a rigorous core curriculum, with no guarantee even then that they will be prepared for college-level work.”

-Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum. ACT 2007

What Can You Do to Prepare?

Based upon ACT findings, students tested higher after taking nearly a year or a year and a half more of each subject listed above than the original core curriculum’s recommendations.

Other suggestions include:

  • Additional or Advanced Placement English courses for strong writing components
  • Public Speaking
  • Computer Literacy (MS Word, Excel)
  • Basic History
  • Government
  • Current Affairs
  • Study Skills (note taking, etc.)
  • 3 years of foreign language as opposed to the required 2 years

It also may be beneficial and worth the effort to continue college prep tutoring during summer months.

Remember, statistics are showing that the general population of high schools may not be teaching rigorously enough to fulfill expectations of college and university curriculums, something that you as the student may not necessarily be aware of. Advanced placement does not guarantee your chances of adequate preparedness, but it may help gain an advantage as long as you can keep up your grades in those courses.


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smith about 7 years ago smith


I remember when universities taught the incoming freshmen and businesses actually trained employees for job requirements. An education required students to be informed in many areas, not simply a narrow field of study. We have been trying to fix a lie for 27 years. The nation at risk report was a political lie designed to push a national department of education down the American publics collective throats. education is still the same as it always was: motivated, well-fed and loved students students learn; hungrey, unloved and hopeless students do not.