PA Coalition for World Class Math

                    Community college students say they were unprepared (11/21/2011)

Posted November 21, 2011 at 11 p.m.

More than half of community college students surveyed said they felt unprepared for college-level work, according to a new study by nonprofit Pearson Foundation and Harris Interactive.

That's a statistic that catches the attention of people such as Amy Evans, a spokeswoman for Cisco College, a community college that has a campus in Abilene. Evans said historical trends show about a third of Cisco College students needed to take at least one developmental education course.

"These courses are designed to help students fill in their educational gaps with regard to math, reading and writing," Evans said.

In the current fall semester, "520 out of 1,674 entering freshmen required developmental courses in math and/or English," she said.

About 71 percent of recent high school graduates surveyed as part of the national Pearson Foundation Community College Student Survey said they are working harder in community college than in high school, while saying their high schools should have put a premium on more challenging courses (48 percent).

Cindy Smith, director of information at Howard College in Big Spring, said some students arrive at her school "academically unprepared."

But the college has also seen a larger number of both statewide and local initiatives to create a "culture of college and career readiness" for students, she said.

"We spend a large amount of our time in recruitment and outreach to help local school districts find the best learning opportunities for their students regardless of their educational aspirations," Smith said.

Howard has shepherded numerous projects in partnership with school districts, she said, including dual credit coursework, all aimed at "helping students become more academically prepared for college-level work."

"Some of the programs include students taking college-level coursework while still in high school," Smith said. "These opportunities are helping our students understand the different expectations based on the type of course they are taking, which can include online."

Evans said that Cisco uses developmental education courses, tutoring services and other programs to help students who may be struggling to succeed.

But the college tries its best to identify other reasons behind students' struggles, Evans said.

"Some of that lies in a real difficulty among students with setting realistic, attainable goals," she said. "If a student comes to college with high hopes and then encounters problems, (he or she) may not always know the best ways to get (himself or herself) out of the problem. That can decrease motivation."

Other students simply come into an academic setting with no clear major, just the "idea of going to school," she said.

"They don't have a clear major, clear goals to accomplish, and no real sense of how education can change their lives," Evans said. "In many ways, college has become just another thing that a person does, instead of college being about what a person can become. Most of us are stumped in terms of how to address these particular issues."

Getting Prepared

Wylie Independent School District Superintendent Joey Light said that his district often hears both sides of the difficulty issue from students.

"There are some students who feel that they are not ready for college classes," he said. "We have many students who think Wylie is too rigorous."

But in Light's opinion, it is the students themselves who must be ultimately accountable for how prepared they will be for college, and the district offers tools to succeed for those who want them.

"If they take our most rigorous courses, they will be better prepared," he said. "If they dodge the rigorous courses, they will not be as prepared."

Cathy Ashby with the Abilene Independent School District said educators and parents need to continue to push students to take the most challenging courses available.

"One mistake I hear often from parents is their desire to want their children to have 'an easy senior year,'" said Ashby, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "This is a big mistake if we want our students to be prepared for college."

The district begins offering Advanced Placement and pre-AP courses in middle school to assist students in the skills and study habits they will need to be prepared for college coursework, she said.

"Our students who take advantage of these courses have sharpened analytical and writing skills along with better study habits, self-discipline, and the time management skills needed to be prepared and successful in college," she said.