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Fixing the Community College Conundrum: Unpreparedness = High Drop-Out Rate AND Debt

February 24, 2015

Last week Eduardo Porter’s column, “The Promise and Failure of Community College” highlighted the conundrum community colleges face: because so many students who enroll are unprepared for the coursework they drop out before completing the coursework. For decades I have offered a straightforward cost-effective solution to this problem: require high school sophomores to take the community college placement examination before making their course selections for 11th and 12th grade. These test results could be used as a diagnostic and vocational tool illustrating to students the specific gaps they need to fill in their remaining years in high school if they wish to pursue post secondary schooling. By alerting the students to those gaps with two years left in high school it would be possible for a larger number of them to avoid paying for non-credit-bearing courses when the enroll in the community college in their state. More importantly, the results could be used to begin a conversation between the guidance counselors and students about how the final two years of high school could help prepare them for the future.

Why wouldn’t this idea work? One of the realities that Porter and other columnists fail to mention is that community colleges and similar two-year institutes would lose large sums of money if they didn’t offer remedial courses…. and for that reason the post-secondary schools might push back if legislators insisted that they standardize their placement examinations and allow them to be administered in the 10th grade. Administering diagnostic preparation tests in 10th grade would be far more beneficial than administering summative standardized tests in 11th grade and would cost states far less than the standardized assessments required today. So… what are we waiting for!

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