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1 Exploring Underpreparedness 1 Running head: EXPLORING UNDERPREPAREDNESS IN POST SECONDARY ED Exploring Underpreparedness in Post-Secondary Education Melissa Hinderscheit Ken Ries M.A. Education: Educational Leadership Educational Issues 296, Professor Kasya Willhite Concordia University, St. Paul

2 Exploring Underpreparedness 2 Abstract Popular media reports that one third of incoming college students require remedial coursework. This has created a perception that poor performing high schools are the primary barriers to success in higher education. Research presented explores issues of underpreparedness in postsecondary education, focusing on student demographics that include: family income, educational achievement, family structure and community, and educational deferment between secondary and post-secondary. The bulk of the data were gathered through a literature review process. The result of the research was not to reach a recommendation but to bring to light specific issues of underpreparedness. It is vital that stakeholders within the educational system develop a basic understanding of the issues of underpreparedness before positive change can occur.

3 Exploring Underpreparedness 3 Exploring Underpreparedness in Post-Secondary Education A recent Associated Press article, Younger Students Make Progress, stated that one-third of college students in the U.S. have to enroll in remedial education (2008). This and similar articles have created the perception that inadequate secondary schools are students primary barriers to higher education. The truth is far deeper than the headlines imply. Family income and educational attainment, family structure and community, as well as the number of years between secondary and post-secondary education all play a role in the success and preparedness of a college student. In previous decades, college enrollment was generally limited to those who were of higher social or financial status. President Johnson s Great Society reforms of the 1960s created greater opportunities for disadvantaged students (Boyer, Kaestle, Levine, Geiger, & Reese, 2001). The Civil Rights Movement, which barred race from college admission decisions, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, which established greater financial aid opportunities, made it possible for more students from low-income families and minorities to attend college. However, as colleges have opened their doors to larger numbers of minority, disadvantaged, and nontraditional (age 25 and over) students, students who are often less academically prepared than their peers, preparedness became more of an issue (Grimes, & David, 1999). More high school graduates, especially students who did not look ahead to college, are enrolling in post-secondary education (MNSCU, & U of MN, 2005). When they arrive, they find it very difficult to succeed. Six-year Bachelor s degree completion rates have been as low as 19% at some institutions (Astin, 2005). If access was a defining educational opportunity theme for higher education beginning in the 1960s, retention has become a defining theme for the 1990s and beyond (Thayer, 2000, p. 3). Astin analyzed the data from 56,181 incoming freshman and

4 Exploring Underpreparedness 4 concluded that more than two-thirds of the variation in degree attainment rates among institutions can be attributed to differences in the students who enroll (p. 12). White females coming from well-educated families have the greatest chance of success in obtaining a college degree (2005). With the exception of Asian Americans, students of color graduate from higher education institutions at lower rates and are less likely to graduate with a 4-year college degree (Vandal, 2006). Underprepared students are not simply students with lower academic skills; they constitute a group with specific characteristics and difficulties (Grimes, & David, 1999, p. 73). Educational Achievement Research conducted by College Board concluded that SAT scores along with high school grades are a significant predictor of college success (Camara, & Echternacht, 2000). As early as fourth grade, a clear pattern begins to emerge. While 23% of White students are reading below grade level, 54% of African Americans, 51% Latino, and 49% of Native Americans/American Indians are reading below grade level (Hall, & Haycock, 2008). This pattern continues through secondary school and into college. The increase in student underpreparedness has resulted in a growing need for college developmental or remedial courses in 2-year and 4-year colleges. Some say that if a college adopts such courses, they are lowering their standards and dumbing down their curriculum. Critics also feel that if students are not prepared for college, then they should not be enrolled (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006). Many remedial courses can be found at community and technical colleges rather than 4-year colleges, which can be one reason why the degree attainment rate for low-income, minority and disadvantaged students is lower at 4-year institutions. Proponents of developmental coursework believe that students may be stronger in

5 Exploring Underpreparedness 5 one area and weaker in another, necessitating such coursework; advocates also note that without remedial education, many students would not have the opportunity to obtain a 4-year degree, let alone a 2-year degree (Attwell et al.). Family Income Family income is a clear predictor of college success. Research conducted through Postsecondary Education Opportunity examined data on the correlation between ACT scores, college continuation, degree attainment, and family income. Researchers found that average ACT scores rose gradually but steadily as family incomes increased. The report also showed a vast gap in college continuation rates based on students family income. In 2005, students whose family income was between $0-$25,063 (Bottom Income Quartile), had a low college continuation rate of 55.7%, while a family in the top quartile, an income of $74,583 or more, had a continuation rate of 89.0% (2006). Students from the lowest income quartile had the lowest bachelor s degree attainment rate at 9.9%, while those in the top quartile enjoyed an 81.3% degree attainment rate (PSEO, 2006). These statistics show a huge gap among students of different socioeconomic status. A study conducted by MaryBeth Walpole in 2003 explored differences in the college experiences of students from low and high-income families. Walpole found that students from low socioeconomic backgrounds participated in fewer extracurricular activities, worked more, studied less, and reported lower GPAs than their peers from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. It was also noted in the study that nine years after entering college, students from low-income families had lower incomes, lower educational attainment, and lower graduate school attendance. Family income appears to influence students likelihood of entering and completing college, even when controlling for academic ability (Thayer, 2000, p. 3).

6 Exploring Underpreparedness 6 Family Structure and Community Several factors are tied to family structure and community. In this literature review, we explore family educational background, English language learning, parental involvement, community issues, and student mobility. Astin found that students who come from welleducated families have an advantage when it comes to completing college (2005, p.16). Firstgeneration students, those whose parents did not obtain a college degree, receive less parental help in the college preparatory process. They are also more likely to handle issues themselves, and are less likely to seek out additional resources such as tutoring, writing assistance, or meeting with their high school counselor or college advisor (MMEP, 2006). Recent research demonstrated the correlation between an individual s family educational attainment and income levels and his/her future educational attainment and income (PSEO, 2004). Compared to their middle and upper-income peers, low-income youth experience lower academic achievement, poorer results on standardized tests, lower attendance rates, higher mobility rates, lower high school graduation and college matriculation rates, and diminished career and educational goals and aspirations (Vandal, 2006). Schools, which serve large populations of low-income students, also face budget cuts, lack of resources such as counselors, books, technology, and teachers, a higher turnover rate of teachers and administrators, and a school climate in which many believe college is barely an option, let alone an expectation. There is oftentimes a lack of college-educated role models in the neighborhoods of low-income, firstgeneration students, which diminishes students post-secondary aspirations and weakens their potential (Vandal 2006). The structure of today s communities and families has changed drastically over time. The number of families who are recent English language learners (ELL) has increased in the last

7 Exploring Underpreparedness 7 decade, impacting the way that we educate our students. Such students in the St. Paul district, where English is their second or third language, are performing at low levels as indicated by standardized testing and a great achievement gap can be seen (SPPSB, 2008). To begin to bridge the gap, it may require more ELL services than schools are able to provide due to the lack of funding or resources (Engle, Bermeo, & O Brien, 2006). Low-income and first-generation families may have difficulty becoming involved in school activities due to a wide variety of issues including language and cultural differences, multiple jobs, and feelings of displacement in the education system. Parent/family involvement is an essential component of the college preparatory process. Students whose parents have not attended college are much less likely to take college preparatory courses or apply for financial aid because of a lack of understanding of post-secondary requirements and inaccurate information about the cost of college (MNSCU, & U of MN, 2005). Families from low-income and minority communities also experience high rates of teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and crime. Most recently, due to the deficit and budget cuts, education has continued to suffer. Schools are often under resourced. High crime rates, racial discrimination, and health-related issues saturate lowincome communities and interfere with postsecondary preparation and aspirations (Vandal, 2006). Research conducted by the Kids Mobility Project in Minneapolis showed that reading scores for elementary students who moved 3 or more times was half that of students who did not. The report also found that students of color and low-income students move more frequently than other families of higher income (Family Housing Fund, 1998). Most research shows that high mobility lowers student achievement particularly when the students are from low-income, lesseducated families (Educational Resources Information Center, 1991). High mobility rates create

8 Exploring Underpreparedness 8 significant challenges for teachers, affect the comfort level of the students, and lead to academic challenges and a lack of continuity in the curriculum. Educational Deferment R. Baker, Pine Technical College Registrar, claims that students who defer their entry into higher education score lower on the College Board Accuplacer entrance exams (Baker, R. personal communication, October 6, 2008). The longer a student waits before entering postsecondary education, the less likely that student is to succeed. Students of color are more likely to defer their college education. In the 2006 State of Students of Color report, Vandal concludes that student of color enrollment (in higher education) continues to rise, the achievement gaps persist, and students of color are less likely to be prepared for higher education. While more students of color are attending college, researchers show that more students of color take time off after high school, deferring their college enrollment to more than 1 or 2 years after high school graduation, until they return to a post-secondary institution (2006). Conclusion Popular media often condenses information down to sound bites and talking points. It is easy to look at a statistic such as one-third of college students in the U.S. have to enroll in remedial education and draw the conclusion that our high schools are doing a poor job educating our students. However, the truth is far more complicated. In this paper we just scratched the surface of the issues facing students today. Educational achievement, family income, family structure and community, and time spent out of the educational system are four of a myriad of factors affecting student success and college readiness. For positive change to occur, it is critical for faculty, students, parents, policymakers, and other stakeholders to get beyond the sound bites and develop an understanding of the basic issues affecting student success. Only then

9 Exploring Underpreparedness 9 can those engaged in education begin to make sense of the potential solutions that are being offered by researchers, faculty members, parent groups, and others within the educational arena.

10 Exploring Underpreparedness 10 References Associated Press. (2008). Younger students make progress, Star Tribune, September 15, 2008, pp. A3. Astin, A. W. ( ). Making sense out of degree completion rates. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 7(1-2), Attewell, P., Lavin, D., Domina, T., & Levey, T. (2006). New Evidence on College Remediation. The Journal of Higher Education. September/October v77 n5, Boyer, P., Kaestle, C., Levine, D., Geiger, R., & Reese, W. (2001). Education, The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press. Retrieved October 11, 2008 from =t119.e0459-s0003 Camara, W., & Echternacht, G. (2000). The SAT I and high school grades: Utility in predicting success in college. The College Board Research Notes. January RN-10. Retrieved October 12, 2008 from Educational Resources Information Center. (1991). Highly mobile students: Educational problems and possible solutions. ERIC/CUE Digest, ED338745, n73. Retrieved October 10, 2008 from b/80/23/45/c8.pdf Engle, J., Bermeo, A., & O Brien, C. (2006). Straight from the source: What works for first-generation college students. The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. December Family Housing Fund. (1998). Kids mobility project report. Retrieved October 12, 2008 from Grimes, S., & David, K. (1999). Underprepared community college students: Implications of attitudinal and experiential differences. [Electronic version]. Community College Review, 4 v27 n2, Hall, D. and Haycock, B. (2008). Achievement in america: The numbers and the stories they tell [PowerPoint slides], September 15, Retrieved October 12, 2008 from Minnesota State Colleges & Universities, & University of Minnesota. (2005). Getting prepared 2005: A 2005 report on recent high school graduates who took developmental/remedial courses. Retrieved October 9, 2008 from

11 Exploring Underpreparedness 11 Postsecondary Education Opportunity (PSEO). (2004, & 2006). Family income and higher education opportunity, n174. December Retrieved October 10, 2008 from %20income St. Paul Public School Board (SPPSB). (2008). Comprehensive large-scale system changes. Presentation to the committee of the board. September 4, Thayer, P. (2000). Retaining first generation and low-income students. Opportunity Outlook Council for Opportunity in Education. May p 3. U.S. Department of Education. (2008). Federal TRIO programs 2008 annual low income levels. Retrieved October 8, 2008 from Vandal, B. (2006). State of students of color. Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. Retrieved October 12, 2008 from Walpole, M. (2003). Socioeconomic status and college: How SES affects college experiences and outcomes. Review of Higher Education, v27 n1,

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