Jeff Meadors: Close the readiness gap between high school and college

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

Re-teaching is big bucks.

Currently 37 percent of students entering two-year colleges and 18.1 percent entering four-year colleges require remediation. This has a conservatively calculated cost to Georgia taxpayers of $22.3 million annually.

With a 27 percent skills gap between the percentage of Georgia adults with a college degree, 34percent, and the percentage of jobs requiring post-secondary education, 61 percent, critical questions arise. Why are students arriving at college campuses unprepared? What will life be like for those for whom remediation precipitates dropping out of college? And what is the impact on all of us?

I have more questions than answers, but Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education research reminds us that roughly 90 percent of Georgia's prison inmates hold no post-secondary credentials. Most failed to complete high school and we pay more to feed and house them per inmate than the annual average FTE for one student.

Some things are clear. Research points to one key factor for college-readiness: the accumulation of academic skills and preparation in high school is the single best predictor of college outcomes. Students who attend poor-quality schools may not receive the requisite grounding in core subjects to engage successfully in college level work; most will leave college early without credentials.

Misalignment between K-12 systems and college expectations exacerbates the problem. High school courses named chemistry do not share the same core competencies as collegechemistry. The Georgia DOE has been slow to pick up on this. Nomenclature simply does not connote similar coursework.

Even students with high math SAT or ACT scores are often best served with a foundation in college algebra followed by pre-calculus and calculus. The current high school state course codes for math read like hieroglyphics from another place and time and the misalignment rears its head in grade completion. Students with an integrated math background struggle tremendously with college algebra while their home school and private school counterparts often exempt the entire class.

Students and researchers alike blame the "wasted" senior year of high school during which many students experience less academic rigor rather than more. Georgia has put legislation into place for early college options, yet secondary school marketing of these programs is anemic at best. If strong high school counseling staff is in place then students will hear about these options. Otherwise they are on their own.

Better communication is needed between K-12 and higher education about the demands of college and requisite skills for success. Better communication takes time and money.

Others attribute poor college-readiness to the emphasis on minimum competencies inherent in secondary performance exams and argue that rather than viewing secondary tests as "exit" or "end of course" exams they should be revamped as college "entrance" exams and better aligned with college expectations.

Federal estimates of costs to taxpayers for remediation in 1991 ranged from $1 billion to $2 billion. Today, according to Strong American Schools, estimates approach $2.3 billion for community colleges and $500 million at four-year colleges.

In the current turbulent political climate, will voters send a strong message this fall with HR 1162? Whose money is it anyway?

Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education.