Schools try to get students college-ready

As many as four out of five college freshmen are not ready for college in all of the key subjects, according to ACT Inc., a company that provides educational services.

This problem impacts college graduation rates and the professional industry.

In the past, numerous institutions of higher education did not work closely with the K-12 school system.

But states are beginning to change this, said Alan Richard, a Southern Regional Education Board spokesman. “Getting at this problem involves K-12 schools and post-secondary schools working together in ways they never have,” he said.

SREB is a policy and research organization that works with state officials and educational institutions in 16 Southern states, including Florida, to improve school systems.

“If students graduate from high school, they should expect that the diploma means they’re ready to begin college work, but in many cases that’s not what a diploma means,” Richard said. “If K-12 (schools) and colleges work together, the result may be higher college completion rates, fewer remedial courses for college students and improved high school graduation rates.” In March, SREB released a report titled “Getting Students Ready for College and Careers.”

“States do not have college- and career-readiness standards built into high school curricula, instruction and statewide assessments,” said SREB President David Spence in the report. “Right now, in many states, students are lucky if they are assigned a teacher who has the high expectations to push them to high levels of achievement.”

He continued: “Higher education leaders and policy-makers within each state have not agreed on what it means to be ready, so high schools, teachers, parents and students are left without clear messages on what college readiness means.”

The Black Males Explorers Program at Florida A&M University exemplifies universities working with public schools to help struggling students.

The program, which began in 1991, connects FAMU with public schools around the nation to find at-risk black males in grades seven through 12 and show them what college is like during a six-week summer program.

“We work with them on areas such as professional development, self-esteem and conflict resolution to inspire them to go beyond high school and prepare them for college,” said Tommy Mitchell, the director of the program.

“In many cases, they have the potential but just aren’t doing well because of things like their environment,” he said. “But we get many college graduates out of the program. At least 60 percent of our students go on to college.”

Mitchell said the program can create major change within participants.

“One student came in with a 1.9 grade point average,” Mitchell said. “He was hanging with the wrong crowd.”

Even though the student came into the program late in high school, Mitchell said the student went on to attend FAMU in the nursing program. “He graduated No. 2 in his nursing class,” he said.

The problem of college preparedness among students is not new to historically black colleges and universities, Mitchell said.”Many of the students at FAMU are not ready for college,” Mitchell said. “HBCUs have always had to have enhancement programs to get students through school and we are going to have to continue to expose them to what’s out there.”