Education today/Steve Patchin

In 2007, the ACT launched a National Curriculum Survey of college professors inquiring if students entering college were academically prepared to successfully engage in their coursework. Of those surveyed, 65 percent stated their states did not adequately prepare college students for college-level course work. A 2007-08 survey found one of every three students had to take at least one remedial course needed to prepare a student to successfully engage in a “true” college level courses. Community Colleges found that 42 percent of their first-year students needed to enroll in these remedial courses.

Education leaders in Minnesota are preparing to address this issue of ill-prepared students with an initiative that is expected to be introduced to its legislature in January of 2013. Titled “Redesigning the Transition from Secondary to Post-Secondary Education,” its focus will be to modify instruction and college preparation in K-12 education to make the transition to college more seamless, with the goal of making more students career and college ready.

The Minnesota plan has four main components. First, they will be creating college readiness assessments to be taken by students in ninth, 10th and 11th grades. Once evaluated, the second component will be planned interventions to help students achieve proficiency in these academic areas. Next, the availability of enrolling in college courses while still in high school will be increased. And finally, programming and assessment would be implemented to help students better understand their career interests, provide students experiences to allow them to develop the persistence that will be needed to achieve academic success in post-secondary endeavors, and sharing information about workforce needs.

These programs are being constructed based on efforts that have already been implemented successfully on a smaller scale, such as those at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School in rural Minnesota. Students are offered and complete college courses offered online, through interactive television, or in a classroom on their campus. These experiences “blur the line” between high school and college, but also provide students the real life experience of the rigor and elevated expectations they will face in their collegiate endeavors.

Students from the Mountain View district’s Irondale High School experience a program that targets students ranked in the middle 50 percent of the class. Courses are offered such as “college seminar” that helps them boost mathematics, reading and writing skills. The class also exposes students to college entrance requirements, helping each student develop the habits colleges and universities link to success at their institution. Roughly 30 percent of freshmen and sophomores enroll in this daily class. The impact is evident with the number of sophomores taking college-credit-bearing courses doubling to 62 percent of the class last year.

Minnesota is not the first state to attempt to better align high school and college curricula. Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia have each pursued these initiatives recently. As we continue to re-engineer how we prepare students to complete their journey from cradle to career, we must create programs that begin integrating post-secondary expectations and habits to ensure achievement into K-12 education. Collaboration and commitment between educators in K-12 and higher education is vital for these initiatives to be successful.

Editor’s note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.