Improving high school curriculum will produce better prepared college students

There has been a drastic change in the mentality of community college operations in recent years. There is less of a push to get people in and much more of a push to get people through. This is the reasoning behind Assembly Bill 705, which will prohibit community colleges in California from requiring students to take remedial classes if those classes will extend their completion time of those classes past one year.

The idea is simple. Take out opportunities for students to quit, then students will be less likely to quit. It’s simple in theory, but it may not be quite so sound in practice.

For the 2014-15 academic year in America, more than 550,000 college students were enrolled in remedial classes, according to a study by the Hechinger Report.

The four-year institutions are not doing much better. In 2014, the California State University system admitted close to 72 percent of all first-time freshman applicants, and more than 40 percent of those freshmen were assessed to be below college level, according to statistics by the CSU system.

If students are in such desperate need of these classes, where is the logic in getting rid of them? The notion is that many students are being placed in classes below their levels due to the assessment process. This is another facet of the bill, which requires community colleges to uses multiple measures, like high school transcripts and coursework, to determine the best classes for students.

When we look at the problem closely though, we see that very little is the college’s fault.

In 2015, a study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that only about one-third of high school seniors were college ready. The results of the study showed that about 37 percent of seniors were ready for college-level math and English reading, which was down from the results of the same study done in 2013. Also, the amount of students who tested below basic math and reading levels increased by 3 percent.

Many students in high school are not ready for college. Maybe the problem is the curriculum. Maybe it’s the student. Whatever it is though, it is not the college.

The state legislature is trying to fix an undeniably bad situation. For Cosumnes River College in particular, the graduation rate for students at the school for three years is 25 percent, and the transfer rate is 8 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The numbers get worse the longer the student is at the school.

The legislature is trying to fix a problem based on the numbers it sees, but it’s looking in the wrong spot. High school students are not ready for college, and they are getting progressively worse as time goes on. Trying to fix it for them when they’re in college will not work. Taking a student who is not ready for a college-level English course and placing them in a college-level English course is unlikely to solve the problem. There are students who are ready for college, and there are students who are misplaced during the assessment process, but the numbers are overwhelming.

We need our high schools to do better if we want our colleges to get better. If the legislature wants to see a change, that is where the change needs to happen, and it needs to start soon.