Education Chart of the Day: Role of High School Academic Preparation in College Completion
March 18, 2015
In K-12, [preparation] is the undeniable truth. I remember at the very first meeting that I convened of all Indiana public university presidents and I asked what can the state do, the presidents started with: ‘Please send us more young people who are ready for college.’
– Former Governor Mitch Daniels
That’s how former Indiana governor, and now current president at Purdue University, answered Congresswoman Susan Davis’ (D-CA) question on K-12 academic preparation for college at yesterday’s House Education Subcommittee hearing on “Strengthening America’s Higher Education System.”
President Daniels and Congresswoman Davis got it right. As we’ve been dissecting the causes behind the college completion problem, we’ve noted that one of the major factors involves inadequate high school preparation. Today’s chart of the day shows that academic preparation – particularly high school curricular rigor – is the number one pre-college influence on completion.
As the chart above shows, academic preparation has a far higher pre-college influence on college completion than race, gender, or family income. In fact, while pre-college characteristics drive 23 percent of the difference in bachelor degree completion, 78 percent of that difference can be attributed to the quality of academic preparation. In other words, it’s more important than race, family income, or parent education.
And high school curricular rigor is the most important component of academic preparation that supports later college completion; it’s more important than class rank or GPA and test scores. So the natural question this leads us to ask is, “how do we get all high school students on a college prep academic track?”
Luckily a policy solution is readily apparent: a state partnership grant that will help improve secondary school preparation and motivate students with an upfront college affordability promise to take their college prep studies seriously. Both preparation and the motivation to prepare well are crucial.
A partnership grant can follow one of several designs, but we’ve suggested previously that the federal government should either increase or target existing financial aid to the bottom 80 percent of families. That money should then be delivered to states to provide a cap on student debt for students from low-income families and interest-free loans to students from middle-income families. Up to 20 percent of funds can be used for secondary school reform, allowing states to use the money to enroll all high school students on a mandatory college and career-ready course of study.
We won’t truly attack the college completion problem until we deal with inadequate levels of high school academic preparation. And with our current high levels of college students requiring remedial education, the crisis is as urgent as ever.
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