Daniel Doherty
Recommend this article

Although there has been a growing movement within the public education community to examine new ways to better prepare students for college, many have come to the realization that a bachelor’s degree, while seemingly important, may not be the best option for everyone.

Last month, for example, political pundit John Stossel wrote in his Townhall column that going to college is, in many ways, a superfluous expenditure – especially for those who enroll because they believe it is a prerequisite for success. College life, he asserts, can be wasteful and even detrimental to those hard working entrepreneurs who could otherwise spend their time building a startup company or creating a small business.

The stark reality, however, is that two out of every five students who choose to attend a four-year program never graduate. Yet, even for the brightest students who seek and eventually earn an undergraduate degree – recent studies suggest that most high school graduates are grossly unprepared for the rigors of a college curriculum. The Washington Times reports:

Three out of four graduates aren’t fully prepared for college and likely need to take at least one remedial class, according to the latest annual survey from the nonprofit testing organization ACT, which measured half of the nation’s high school seniors in English, math, reading and science proficiency.

Only 25 percent cleared all of ACT’s college preparedness benchmarks, while 75 percent likely will spend part of their freshman year brushing up on high-school-level course work. The 2011 class is best prepared for college-level English courses, with 73 percent clearing the bar in that subject. Students are most likely to need remedial classes in science and math, the report says.

Although the results are slightly better than last year — 24 percent of the 2010 graduating class met ACT’s four thresholds — the report highlights a glaring disconnect between finishing high school and being ready for the academic challenges of college.

These ACT results are another sign that states need to raise their academic standards and commit to education reforms that accelerate student achievement,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

While often frustrating for professors who are forced to spend a semester teaching concepts their students should have learned by the end of 12th grade, remedial classes also carry more serious consequences.

And what are some of those consequences?

According to Bob Wise, the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, forcing students to take remedial classes may contribute to feelings of inadequacy. As students enter college with the supposition they will enroll in classes of their own choosing, many are relegated to studying courses they have already taken. These individuals, as a result, lose confidence in their own abilities and are thus more likely to drop out. Furthermore, for those who take out unsubsidized loans and never graduate, the financial burdens can be catastrophic.

Taxpayers, as expected, also suffer the burden of remedial classes. During the 2007-2008 school year, remediation programs nationwide totaled as much as $5.6 billion. Many students in college are genuinely unaware that they will be given aptitude tests upon matriculating and are often surprised when their freshmen academic schedules vary greatly from what they expected. This misconception, and naïve sense of entitlement, is another startling indication that secondary public schools are failing to prepare kids for the academic challenges of pursuing an undergraduate degree.

There is more than ample evidence, in my view, to suggest that public schools are on a trajectory towards failure. Reforms are urgently needed, but before they can take place, we must first recognize that problems exist. Only then, after identifying the systemic deficiencies pervasive in public schools, can we begin advocating bold new solutions that will turn underperforming schools around and bring about more educational opportunities to those who earnestly seek them.

Recommend this article

Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography