College Admissions Experts Hope 2011 High School Graduates will be Better Prepared Academically

College Admissions Experts Hope 2011 High School Graduates will be Better Prepared Academically
May 23, 2011/Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS — Tom Dupuie pushed himself as a Kenowa Hills High School student, taking tougher classes, like higher mathematics and science.

“I was preparing myself for college,” said Dupuie, now a senior at Ferris State University who expects to finish up his degree on time.

“But some of my friends were taking classes like school store or yearbook,” he said. “Their grade-point averages might have been as high as mine or even higher, but I wonder how they did in college.”

Too often, college admissions experts said, those students did not fare as well, requiring remedial help. They may have had a high school diploma but not necessarily the skills needed to begin college.

Admissions officers from area colleges say it is too soon to tell how the revamped Michigan Merit Curriculum has changed high school students, since the first class affected has sent in applications and transcripts but won’t start classes until the fall.
But they are optimistic the Class of 2011 will be better prepared — and more high schoolers will realize they can handle the academic hurdles of higher education.

“The state-mandated curriculum sends a clear, concise message to students what colleges are looking to see on a transcript,” said Jodi Chycinski, Grand Valley State University’s admissions director. “And the most important part is that it tells them this information early.”

Mandated in 2006, the curriculum requires, among other things, four years of math, four of English and three of science — with labs. Students must take such higher courses as geometry and chemistry or physics.

“We call it a college prep curriculum, but really it’s much bigger than that,” Chycinski said. “It’s a life-prep curriculum.”
While many students aiming for a four-year college have followed such curricula, others planning to enter the job market or seek a two-year degree might have taken different classes.

Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the hope is fewer students need remedial classes (also called foundation courses) before they can start earning credit toward their associate’s degree — a credential that increasingly essential for employment.

“We still embrace our mission, and we are in many ways all things to all people,” said Hansen, who advocates on behalf of Michigan’s 28 two-year colleges. “But you want students to be earning credit as soon as possible.”

About half of Grand Rapids Community College’s new enrollees are asked to take a placement test if they fall short on grade point average or ACT college entrance cores. Of the 4,608 new students in fall 2010 — including recent high school graduates and older, non-traditional students — 1,450 enrolled in at least one foundations course.

“You want to see people coming to college prepared to take college-level classes,” said Jeff Hartman, GRCC interim director of admissions. “That’s not always the case, and some people need a little more help to get ready for the more rigorous work.”
Mary Cole is among students needing a little extra time, taking more English, math and reading after graduating from Central High School in Grand Rapids.

“I need the extra courses here to make up for what I was missing from middle school when I was misbehaving,” she said. “I’m trying to get on top of everything.”

Cole, who just wrapped up her freshman year at GRCC, said going to college was an expectation in her family. She said the foundation classes have eased her transition, and she believes she can handle college work.

“Here, when you are late with an assignment, they might not even accept it,” she said.

At Grand Valley, about 6 percent of incoming freshmen were placed in remedial math classes, a figure that has been relatively stable for at least the last five years.

Michigan State University offers math placement tests to all 7,000 incoming freshmen to determine how many will need a remedial classes.

Administrators said 1,279 students are enrolled in the math class. In addition, about 300 a year are in a developmental writing class, though international students account for a large number.

MSU admission director James Cotter said the Merit Curriculum mirrors what the university has long suggested students take in high school. He said colleges look beyond GPAs and ACTs when selecting students, but want to see the more difficult courses on a transcript.

“These are the types of courses we’ve strongly suggested,” he said, “and the state requirements lent teeth to that message.”
Cotter said students facing more rigor in high school will have a better chance of earning an undergraduate degree in four years, saving themselves considerable money.

Grand Valley’s Chycinski said the state requirements go even further than the university’s expectations, requiring health and physical education, plus an online component.

That helps colleges, and ultimately students who think impressive grades are all they need to be accepted.

”A GPA doesn’t mean much unless you can see the courses behind it,” she said. “It can really be deceptive. Now we’ll know that if a student has graduated from a Michigan school, we’ll know a little more about that GPA actually means.”

Chycinski said the curriculum has other benefits. About 40 percent of GVSU’s students are the first in their families to seek a college degree. She hopes that increases. The university has seen the number of applications for the fall climb from 13,526 at this time last year to 16,791 today.

”I think there are a lot of high school students who for whatever reason didn’t think they’d be able to handle college work,” she said. “But maybe if they’re taking these classes and passing, they’ll have a different perspective. All of a sudden, college is an option for them.”

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