Are your high school grads college-ready?

Twenty years ago, the foremost issue in the mind of a person asking if high school graduates were ready for college would have been students’ academic preparation: Could the high school graduates learn, read, write, and compute at the level required by degree-granting institutions?

two adult male students of different ages
Concentration is essential at any age.

Today there’s a different question that K-12 educators rarely mention: Will your students be able to compete in classes with men and women 10 or more years older than they are?

Today’s reality: The headline says it all

A news story about the shifting demographics of higher education captured the new reality: “27 is the new 18.”

Adult learners, a.k.a. “nontraditional learners,” make up 35 percent of college students today. Their numbers are growing faster than the numbers of traditional college students.

The traditional college student who arrives at age 18 and leaves at 22 for his first full-time job is fast becoming an oddity on campuses.

The incoming first year student is more likely to be 27 than 18.

The proportion of college students over age 25 is expected to rise to about 50 percent within five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics  Projection of Education Statistics to 2014 (September 2016).

Of those adult learners in college in 2024, 5.5 million are expected to be between 25 and 34, while another 3.9 million are expected to be over 35.

Those adult learners come with life experiences that 18-year-old high school graduates know almost nothing about:

  • a decade or more of paid employment,
  • handling their own finances,
  • paying taxes,
  • making health care decisions,
  • maintaining a home,
  • keeping a vehicle operational,
  • raising children.

What the projections mean to your students

Think of those enrollment projections this way:  The 15-year-old student who enters ninth grade in the 2019-2020 school year, graduates on time, and enters college in the fall of 2024, is likely to discover seven out of 10 of her classmates are already older than she will be when she gets her degree four years later.

The situation of the 15-year-old who enters ninth grade in the 2019-2020 school year, takes concurrent college courses on her high school campus, and enters college as a junior in the fall of 2024, will be even more intimidating.

Her classmates may well be her parents’ age.

The value of “life” learning is increasing

As the college population becomes increasingly dominated by older adults, the value of traditional high school activities such as sports and honor society will dwindle. The value of knowing how the world works—having “life” experiences rather than extracurricular ones—will increase.

When the majority of students are the professor’s age with life experiences similar to the professor’s, instruction is going to be geared to that majority.

Students who have spent their lives surrounded by others of their ages could find themselves being regarded as a kid, competing with grownups for attention and for top grades.

That could be a decidedly unpleasant experience.

It’s time for teachers, administrators, and school boards to give some thought to how they can prepare high school graduates  to compete in a classroom dominated by people who look more like their parents than they do like their friends.

Why most parents’ kids are from Lake Wobegon

Photo from stage showing Garrison Keillor telling stories
“The Lake Wobegon effect” is a term for the tendency to overestimate one’s abilities relative to others.

Why do parents have such unrealistically high assessments of their students’ academic performance?

That’s a question Michael J. Petrilli asks at EducationNext in a blog post titled Common Confusion.

The Common Core was supposed to be associated with tests that showed more accurately the relationship between stated standards and student performance. As those tests have been used, student test scores have gone done—way down, in many cases—but parent’s reports of how their students are doing remains high.

A study released in May reported 90 percent of parents believe their children are performing at “grade level” or higher in their schoolwork.

In New York State, where I live, about a quarter of students fail to graduate on time. Of those that graduate and go on to college, about a third end up taking at least one remedial course in college. I can tell you  from my college teaching experience, if a student can’t pass the test to escape remedial English, that student hasn’t been at grade level for about eight years.

Chart showing2012 HS graduation rates in New York State and percentage of graduates that are college and career ready.
New York State’s report of college and career readiness of 2012 cohort of students.

Petrilli suggests giving parents more direct information about their kids’ performance on the report results, possibly even offering resources for concerned parents to use.

Peter Greene on his blog Curmudgucation takes issue with Petrilli’s comments, which Greene reads as being about Grade Inflation. Greene argues that if grade inflation exists in K-12 education, it’s allowed to happen because there’s no objective standard for what students should really be getting as a grade.

I find myself in agreement with both men on certain points: in particular with Petrilli on the need to report test results in ways that will make sense to parents, with Greene on the deleterious effects of the commodification of education.

That said, however, I think there is another factor that could be the causing parents’ assessment of their kids’ achievement to be way off:  The teachers could be accurately assessing what students have learned in their class, and the tests could be accurately assessing how well the students’ learning matched the standards but the material being taught and the material being tested may be very different.

I don’t have any hard data as to whether that is the case, but my observation of such things as topics for Twitter chats and for professional development workshops for teachers lead me to believe a great many teachers are focused on teaching such things as a growth mindset and grit, which can be acquired while engaged in activities that require developing those dispositions.

I think today’s educators spend way to much time attempting to teach things that they wouldn’t have to teach if they did a really good job teaching their academic content.

I don’t mean stuffing students with facts.

I mean teaching students to read, write, compute, listen, speak, and think in each of their academic subjects and giving students work that gives them the opportunity to exercise creativity, to be innovative and entrepreneurial, to treat others with respect, to make the world a better place.

To that end, it might not be bad if parents did ask their local school boards what they are doing to make sure teachers are teaching the right things.