Closing the College Readiness Gap

"Mind the gap" sign on a Hong Kong MTR train

The following is an excerpt from a post last week in Campus Technology, reporting on the results of a set of recent surveys of university faculty and employers on college and career readiness:

Neither university faculty nor employers believe that American public high schools are preparing students for the expectations they’ll face in college and career. In fact, compared to 2004, the assessment is even more dismal… Part of the challenge, say students themselves, is that their high schools don’t set academic expectations high enough. Fifty-four percent said that they were only “somewhat challenged”; 20 percent said it was “easy to slide by.”

The area which professors found the most students with no preparation at all was in conducting research. Having worked in higher education, I don’t find this surprising. In fact, when I was working at a community college, many of the entering freshmen had not been required to write a single research paper during high school. Those students with research paper experience had typically taken the AP or Honors track in high school (go figure).

This is a big problem because conducting research is an excellent way to build skills in the other areas that professors found lacking in the survey, including critical thinking, writing, and comprehending complex materials.

The solution? In addition to setting higher expectations for ALL students (Common Core does attempt to do this by including research standards in the writing strand), it’s time for the powers that be to start recognizing the importance of librarians in the college preparedness process. The good news is that some progress is being made in that direction with the recent Reed-Cochran Amendment. The bad news is that the college readiness gap will not begin to truly close until we have a more cohesive transition from secondary school to college.

One part of that transition is the new ACRL Information Literacy Framework, which was informed by the AASL Learning Standards. So it would behoove college librarians to become familiar with the AASL standards and to learn about the issues and barriers that their K-12 colleagues are facing in getting the standards implemented. Middle and high school librarians should also familiarize themselves with the new ACRL Framework to become better informed on what information literacy looks likes at the college level. Most importantly, as individual groups, both school and college librarians have unique sets of knowledge that would be beneficial to share with each other. For example, school librarians have the kind of pedagogical training in collaboration that college librarians need, and college librarians can provide school librarians with insight into the kinds of resources and research assignments that incoming freshmen are expected to complete.

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2 thoughts on “Closing the College Readiness Gap

  1. Great information here. I agree with you in that more cohesion needs to occur between secondary schools and colleges. I’d also like to add that the same transitive cohesion needs to occur between elementary and middle as well as middle to secondary schools. Often the skills or lack thereof that are present in college freshman, were lacking freshman year of high school.

    • The middle school level is especially interesting to me because it is such a transitional period (I love that age). My thesis research found that a good number of school districts either share librarians at the K-8 or MS-HS levels and I wonder in those cases, which is better? I would speculate that a librarian shuffling between elementary and middle school would focus more on reading and one shuffling between MS and HS would focus more on research skills. Both are so important!

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