It is a stark, indisputable fact that many of America's high school graduates are not ready for the rigors of college. Fewer than half of the high school juniors and seniors who took the ACT national college admissions test in 2008 met its college readiness benchmark in mathematics. Of the 40,000 freshmen admitted into the California State University system in 2007, more than 60 percent needed remediation in English or math. Nationwide, nearly a third of all incoming freshmen—42 percent of first-year students at public two-year colleges—require remediation.
But the issue is more than a matter of poorly performing secondary schools. Low college readiness rates are a massive failure of the pre-kindergarten through college (Pk-16) system as a whole. High schools, colleges, and universities have not worked together to establish expectations or common standards as to what graduating high school seniors should know and be able to do in order to successfully enter college or the workforce, and students who arrive on campus in need of academic assistance are not able to access remediation of sufficient quality.
While policymakers have made some progress in improving the secondary to postsecondary pipeline, more needs to be done. Despite good intentions, current initiatives are often weak and disconnected. Too many students are getting lost amid the competing demands and misaligned policies of a patchwork Pk-16 system.
Clearly, the nation needs a new approach to Pk-16 reform, with the federal government providing the leverage to promote change. The No Child Left Behind Act and the Higher Education Act provide opportunities for federal policymakers to promote college readiness and high-quality remediation pre- and post-college admission. Leveraging limited federal resources in both the short and long term will create conditions for deep and lasting reform. To accomplish this, we recommend ten ways to incorporate college readiness proposals into federal legislation.
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