Consider this statistic: 3 out of 5 community college students who enroll right after high school are required to take remedial courses before beginning their college educations. That means that more than half of the recent high school grads enrolling in community colleges didn’t master the fundamentals; these students must then pay for remedial classes which do not award college credit.
This statistic has long been touted of proof of the decline in quality education at our public high schools, but while we agree that education quality has certainly fallen short, a new set of studies by Columbia University suggests that this statistic may be misleading. The studies found that more than ¼ of the students assigned to remedial courses based on placement test scores could have earned a B or higher in college level classes.
Most community colleges, and many four-year institutions, rely on one of two placement exams when determining whether students require remediation: The College Board’s Accuplacer and the ACT’s Compass. These tests are far less well known than their college admission counterparts, the SAT and ACT. One consequence of this is that students often don’t realize how much is at stake when they sit for these exams. In fact, many schools tell students not to worry about the tests because they are just for placement. As a result, students do not prepare for these exams as they do for college admissions exams.
Unfortunately, the phrase “just for placement” is incredibly misleading because course placement plays a vital role in determining a student’s chances to graduate. More than ¾ of students placed in remedial classes drop out, many due to boredom and frustration. Moreover, even those students who manage to graduate after taking remedial classes are at a disadvantage because they will have had to spend additional time in college and spend more money for classes that do not count towards graduation.
There are two lessons to be learned from this information.
First is that students must do their best to prepare for college level coursework long before enrolling in college. Many students believe that if they have passed their high school classes, then they are prepared for college work. This, unfortunately, is incorrect. Many high school classes are deceptively easy – students often earn A’s with little effort, rendering high school grades sadly inaccurate. In order to properly prepare for college, students should seek out the most challenging courses available. Because difficulty levels often differ from school to school, Advanced Placement classes may be the best bet – these classes follow curricula mandated by the College Board, which at least ensures uniform difficulty for students across the country. Students should also seek out intellectually engaging extracurricular activities, including book clubs, literary magazines, and debate teams. In fact, C2 Education offers summer book and writing clubs for middle- and early high-school students in order to keep students engaged during summer vacations.
Second is that students should take placement exams very seriously. These exams are not “just” for placement – they can determine a student’s entire college experience and can even play a large role in whether or not that student will graduate. Students should prep for these exams with every bit of determination and dedication that they devote to college entrance exams.