The Colorado Department of Higher Education released a report recently, finding that 37 percent of 2012 high school graduates had to take remedial coursework once they reached college. The numbers reveal a problem in the coordination between K-12 and higher education, and it is one that must be solved.
The gap between what high school students must know in order to graduate and what colleges expect them to know as incoming freshman is troublingly wide. While it has closed since 2011, when 40 percent of graduates had to do remedial work in college, 37 percent is not comfortable. That means more than one in three students are not prepared for the academic rigors of college but presumably have done adequate work in high school. The numbers speak not to the capabilities of the students, nor necessarily to the efficacy of Colorado high schools, but instead suggest that there is insufficient communication between colleges and their K-12 counterparts wherein expectations could be made clear. Following that, high schools — and even middle and elementary schools — could shape their curriculums to accommodate those expectations and ensure that graduates are ready for what follows on Colorado’s college campuses.
The remedial work is predominantly needed in math, though reading and writing are other areas where students need catch-up help. Being core academic areas, there is no reason that high schools cannot increase their emphasis on graduating students proficient in these areas. They are the building blocks for success — in future academic settings and many professional endeavors. Colleges must be clear in what incoming students must know, and high schools must make it their work to ensure that students know it.
Fifty-seven percent of Colorado high school graduates go on to attend college — a number that has been dropping slightly each year for the last four years, from a 2009 high of 58.8 percent. That is a large number of incoming students, too many of whom are not prepared. There has been improvement in the last few years, and the report suggests promise for that trend to continue now that the standards between higher education and K-12 schools have been more seamlessly aligned. That and the new Common Core State Standards Initiative will further improve graduates’ readiness, the report says. It also puts Colorado’s numbers into the national context. “Prior national research estimated half of all community college students and 20 percent of students entering a four- year institution required remediation. Other national studies cite upward of 60 percent of students attending two-year institutions need basic-skill courses, and it is estimated that fewer than 25 percent with remedial needs graduate. Colorado’s rates are comparable with the nation and have historically shown statewide remediation to hover around 40 percent,” the report said.
With that number down 3 points for 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, the state and its students are moving in the right direction. They have some distance remaining to travel, though.