Barriers impeding student pathways to college diplomas

Barriers impeding student pathways to college diplomas

(Calif.) Only one of every three high school freshmen are expected to earn a bachelor’s degree, even among the most academically prepared students, according to a new report.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 70 percent of ninth graders fall off the path to college in the last two years of high school or the first two years of community college. Authors of the report found that most high school graduates do not complete the college preparatory courses required for admission to the California State University or University of California systems–but even those who are prepared may not earn a diploma.

“Widespread progression problems in high schools are keeping even academically prepared students from advancing to the next level of college prep coursework,” Niu Gao, co-author of the report, said in a statement. “Similar problems exist in community colleges, where well-prepared students do not take the transfer-level courses that would move them toward college completion.”

Authors analyzed data from more than 140,000 California high school graduates from the classes of 2007 to 2014 across 24 school districts–a number representing about 5 percent of the state’s high school graduates in the state during that time.

Researchers found a handful of causes, including poor academic counseling and improper course placement, that led even the most academically inclined students to fall behind following their sophomore year and into their first two years of college.

Misplacement of students into remedial college classes, for instance, was found to be one of the causes for low transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities. Nearly one-third of students who had completed the required college-prep coursework in high school were placed non-credit bearing classes in college.

That said, only 38 percent of high school graduates took all the courses required for admission to a public four-year state university. Fourteen percent of students lacked the appropriate English or science courses, 12 percent missed math courses and 10 percent had not taken social-science courses, according to the study.

On one hand, not every high school offers a complete menu of the courses required for admission to the state’s public universities. On the other, students don’t always sign up for the required courses, even if they do well in prerequisite classes. Researchers found that one-third of students who earned an A or B in Algebra 1 didn’t advance to geometry, for example.

Authors of the report recommend Legislators update high school graduation requirements, which currently only requires that students take two years of math.

Other recommendations at the high school level include districts increasing the number of college-prep and a–g approved courses, and encourage more high school seniors to take them; and revising course placement policies to help students to stay on track.

At the community college level, the study recommends:

  • Continued development of more accurate placement systems;
  • Establishing effective academic counseling and support systems for students; and
  • Expanding the capacity at CSU campuses in order to improve transfer rates.