Does High School Success Automatically Translate to College Success?

No, and advanced coursework doesn’t help much either

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According to a recent post of the Brookings Institution, high school classes — even advanced classes such Advanced Placement— do not prepare students to succeed in college classes that cover the same subjects.

It’s no secret that many high school graduates are inadequately prepared for college. I’ve already written about that here and posted an article about it here.

But it’s probably true that most people think that advanced or accelerated courses, such as AP, are preparing students effectively. This Brookings commentary suggests that they are not.

Brad Hershbein, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a labor studies research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan, wrote the post examining this issue. He states the problem succinctly: “Education leaders too often judge high school success by high school metrics; not whether students end up with the knowledge and perseverance to attain a degree.”

Although AP courses are often touted as a way to earn college credit, skip comparable college classes, and thereby save money and perhaps graduate earlier, it’s not clear whose idea that was. It probably wasn’t Dartmouth’s. Hershbein writes that “Dartmouth stopped accepting Advanced Placement credits after 90% of students who scored a perfect ‘5’ on the AP Psychology exam reportedly failed the university’s own test.”

Here are my takeaways from Hershbein’s piece:

  1. Advanced high school coursework may not be worth it unless you take calculus. Courses like advanced psychology, sociology, even physics and economics don’t  appear to make much difference in college grades. If you’re going to take an advanced class in high school, make it calculus.
  2. Content knowledge is important, but what may be more important in high school is critical thinking, the ability to analyze evidence, and the ability to write an argument, and other non-cognitive or soft skills. To really prepare for college, learn how to write persuasively without appealing to emotion.
  3. High schools and colleges need to collaborate. At a higher-ed summit I attended last year, I heard about community colleges that started working with high schools attended by Native Americans because the high school graduates kept failing their college courses. Such a collaboration is the only way to bridge the gap between what students learn in high school and what they need to know to succeed in college.


2 Responses to Does High School Success Automatically Translate to College Success?

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