2/26/15 – Wall Street Journal publication found here. The letter in its entirety found below.
The main reason for community colleges’ low graduation rate is low academic skills.
Thomas F. McLarty does a good job of making the case for the importance of community college in closing the income and opportunity gaps in the US (“Equality Needs More than Free Tuition,” 2/16/15). He also puts his finger squarely on the problem with community college: the 20% graduation rate. But he misses the mark with his recommended solution. Yes, business-sponsored training and apprenticeships could help, but the main reason for the low graduation rate is low academic skills. 52% of incoming community college students do not have the basic reading and math skills to do community college-level work. When they are given the standard skill-assessment tests used for course placement, either the Accuplacer or Compass or ACT, they fall short of the cut-off scores and are placed in non-credit remedial courses that cost full tuition and fees but do not count toward a degree. After a semester or two of these remedial (also called “developmental”) courses, 90% drop out, discouraged, depleted and often in debt.
This is the main cause of the low community college graduation rate. The cure is to make sure that high school students do have the necessary reading and math skills to meet community college standards by preparing them for those placement tests. Almost all high schools prepare students for the SAT—but the SAT does not determine community college course placement. The Accuplacer, Compass and ACT do. Yet almost no high schools prepare students for these crucial tests. If every high school that sends graduates to community colleges instituted a preparatory course in junior and senior year for their state’s college placement test, we would see community college graduation rates spike up like a hockey stick.
This is an easy fix. We should just do it.
JFYNetWorks is a Boston-based nonprofit provider of blended learning programs to high schools, community colleges and community agencies.
Related post: Battling Massachusetts’ College Readiness Gap