Thursday, August 31, 2017

Who's College Ready?

Gail Mellow (LaGuardia Community College) turned up in the New York Times this week to challenge the classic picture of a college student.

For many of us, "college student" conjures up images of a fresh-faced nineteen year old, enjoying the chance to live independently, study hard, and maybe indulge in the sowing of some untamed oats. The modern reformy "college and career ready" picture is similar-- 18-year-olds walk across the stage, grab their diplomas, and walk straight into a college dorm. But Mellow's gathered data create a different picture. Here are some stats:

40% of US college students attend a community college.

0.4% of US college students attend "one of the ivies."

Over half of all undergrads live at home, mostly to make things more affordable.

40% of college students work thirty or more hours per week.

25% work full time while also attending college full time.

25% of all undergrads are older than twenty-five.

25% of undergrads are single parents.

Between 2011 and 2015, 20% of two-year college students lived in food-insecure households.

Now, Mellow has a dog in this fight, and he works his way around to the notion that government should give more funds to community colleges (like, you know, his).  But the broad idea of his point remains--

We don't really know what a "typical" college student looks like.

And if we don't know what a college student looks like, then how can we know when somebody is ready to be one?

Does "college ready" include "on good terms with your parents so you'll have a place to live"? Doe it mean "not pregnant"? Is some version of a gap year so normal now that a college ready student is one with a gap year plan? And should we be making all future college students sit down and take a course about how to negotiate a loan? (The answer is "yes.")

There's definitely nothing here to suggest that what students need to be more college ready is a greater ability to take a Big Standardized Test, nor do any of these issues seem to line up with the Common Core [Insert Your New Name Here] Standards. It continues to be impossible to make students "college ready" when we still have no idea what that term actually means.

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