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COLLEGE CONNECTION: Not All Kids College Ready

February 14, 2011

By Carol Boyd

Under the Obama administration’s national education reform agenda, the phrase “all kids college and/or career ready” has become the buzzword and the battle cry of urban school districts, particularly those in receipt of federally funded initiatives. However, beyond “show us the money” how prepared are states, districts, community organizations, students and families to make the goal of universal college readiness a reality?  In a moment of  “all fired up” or perhaps naïveté, the President issued a challenge to America to become the nation with the highest percentage of college-educated students by 2020. With less than nine years until 2020, is the Obama Challenge a missive of hope or hype?

As a parent who has spent the past ten years getting my children (two down, one to go) college ready, I can attest to the fact that it really does take a village of resources to successfully navigate the process. And as an aunt, grandmother, neighbor and friend, I have seen the discouragement of far too many young people who graduate high school – even as honors students – thinking they are ready to excel in college, and then face the rude reality of being completely unprepared for the college experience.

In this new COLLEGE CONNECTION column, EdVox will explore the notion of college and career readiness across a variety of perspectives – students, parents, faculty and staff who know about the ways policies and practices impact on student achievement, and we will challenge our readers to create college ready communities across our city.


The Wall Street Journal last week cited data from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) revealing that among the 77% of NY State students that graduated in 2009, only 42% were college or career ready.  In NYC, where overall graduation rates hover around 65%, only 23% of students were ready for college or career. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the outcomes for students of color were even worse. This helps to explain why half of NYC high school graduates require remedial courses once they are enrolled in CUNY, this spirals to 74% for community college entrants. It is clear that many students are not being provided the kind of courses needed to ensure college readiness.

But the need for improvement doesn’t end with the high schools.  Data from CUNY show that many students assigned to remedial courses do not successfully complete them and many students go no farther than their first year of college.  As a result, graduation rates are remarkably low—less than 30% of students who begin at the associate (two-year) degree level earn a degree within six years and only about 50% of those who begin at the baccalaureate (four-year) degree level do so within six years.  Not all of this can be chalked up to the poor skills of students.  We need to look at the roles and responsibilities of both the DOE and the university systems so that we can effectively advocate for needed changes.

NYSED defines a student as college and career ready if they score at least 80 and 75 on the Integrated Algebra and English Regents exams, respectively. Ironically, more stringent graduation requirements imposed by NYSED await the Class of 2012 and beyond (they will have to score a 65 on Math and English Regents exams to graduate); yet, they still fall short of the criteria for college and career readiness. It would stand to reason that if the bar is raised, it should align with the minimal standards for post-secondary readiness, but even these new higher standards represent a low bar.

“We want college prep, not just test prep” has been the battle roar of students, parents and communities citywide who know that just a high school diploma leaves a student with next to no career options. But college isn’t the only post-secondary pathway to a thriving career. A recent Harvard study suggests that some students can find satisfying careers from technical education, instead of  a college education — especially in fields of technology or the arts. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC Department of Education may be on the right track by combining the high school experience with career-ready skills in the creation of a six-year secondary/technical school model, albeit inside the phasing out Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn.

For the Obama Challenge of 2020 to become one giant step for students in NYC instead of the impossible dream, the Mayor, Department of Education and universities will have to face up to the reality that these new stats reveal, challenge NYSED to align their standards to comply with college and career readiness, commit themselves to work with the essential partners of parents and communities, and create a comprehensive plan for college and career preparedness so that all students have viable pathways to prosperity.

One Comment leave one →
  1. John M. Beam permalink
    February 14, 2011 6:05 pm

    The parallel topic in the not-ready-for-college discussion is the not-everybody-needs-to-go-to-college discussion, because the politicians who run K-12 and the politicians who run the AA-PhD end of things have not figured out how to “fix” students who arrive at 12th grade still handicapped by deficits that started adding up when they were in kindergarten.

    The challenge for schools and the public is three fold:

    * Letting students know that there are potentially satisfying and fulfilling options out there but that some of them involve serious choices around lifestyle.

    * Having resources available to help students succeed in preparing for a non-college bound, post high school alternative.

    * Not allowing the schools to communicate lower expectations for any students.

    The modern history of social services in New York has been that almost any “progressive” or “humane” innovation has also been a trojan horse for financial savings in public budgets. Think deinstitutioanlization or family preservation or freedom from welfare by requiring people to work poverty level jobs. In some European countries, the non-academic track ensures that students are literate and have sound technical training and hands on experience when they leave school. At the end of that process, they join the workforce in a unionized job that pays living wages and is backed up by a social wage/safety net that includes universal health care. Does anyone think that we are prepared to offer that option to non-college bound students in a system that has not figured out how to collect lunch money?


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