Friday, June 02, 2006

Entering college without a high school diploma

Students seek higher education through the back door

A growing number of colleges nationwide are accepting students who have not graduated from high school. Nearly 400,000 students without high school diplomas are enrolled in colleges, according to a survey by the U.S. Education Department conducted in 2003–2004.

In an age of elevated dropout rates, observers note that the growth is fueling a debate over whether the students should be in college at all and if state financial aid programs should help pay their way. Karen Arenson reports for the New York Times.

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Rose said...

That's sad. If they can't pass high, what happens in college. I'm afraid that this will just deter more kids from completing high school.

DCS said...

Rose: You could be right. We'll have to watch this trend.

I've been disturbed for some time about the large number of kids who drop out of school - and the reasons they do so. This year I was shocked to find that several of my daughter's friends quit school. They didn't drop out because they were poor students or disruptive. Many, in fact, are very bright and enjoy learning. These kids became disenchanted with the public school system for a variety of reasons. These kids dropped out and enrolled in GED programs because they got tired of the drama.

As I see it, these kids value education. Since the public school system didn’t work for them, they decided to try an alterative route.

Don't get me wrong. I still think it's preferable that kids get their high school diplomas. But traditional high school isn't for all youngsters.

Kids who go on to college without a high school diploma are considered high-risk students - and rightfully so. Undoubtedly, unless the students are disciplined and persistent, they will fail. But my guess is that for those students determined to get their education, many will do whatever it takes to succeed.

On a personal note: I was a good student in public school, but I hated school from the time I was in fourth grade to the time I graduated from high school. I loved learning and was a voracious reader; I hated how unyielding my high school seemed to be.

I disliked school so much, I told my parents I didn’t want to go to college. But my parents insisted that I further my education. I went to the college of my choice – not theirs. The university offered a four-year scholarship and an opportunity for creative and critical thinking. I completed a double major while working 30 hours per week.

I skipped my graduation ceremony. Maybe I was a rebel. :-)

Elizabeth said...

I sympathize with these students. I hated high school, but now, years later, I realize I probably went to one of the best public high schools in the country! Most public school systems are so bad, it continually boggles my mind.

I also think that the reason more of these students drop out of college probably isn't so much because they lack skills, but because of other issues, or perhaps because the one thing graduating from high school shows is not a certain level of education but rather perseverance--which you also need to stay in college.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Colleges can do what they want to do, but no one has been more critical of public education than them. They accuse us of grade inflation and say we're not adequately preparing kids for college. Now some of them are admitting kids who couldn't even make it in high school. And some of these kids are succeeding with GPAs as high as 3.66. How do you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-S-Y?

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, I don't know if you ever saw the movie "Something About Mary." In the movie, there is a character named Warren, who is Mary's brother, and he is incredibly sensitive about his ears. If anyone ever touches them, he goes absolutely bonkers. Elizabeth, you just touched my ears.

Saying things like, "most public schools are so bad" has become an overused, inaccurate, and dangerous cliche'. I can't comment on the school you went to, but I can comment on mine. I KNOW that any student who comes to our school and wants to get a good education can do so. We have former students attending at succeeding at state and private universities around our region, and we've had kids go to almost any prestigious university in the country that you can name. We have kids who are now doctors, lawyers, biological engineers, and we've also got former students who are teachers, nurses, and mechanics. And there is no evidence that our school is in a league of its own. There are thousands of public schools around the nation who's former student are doing just as well.

Going to college is different from high school because so many students there have a pretty good idea what they want to do, and they have the goal of getting there. Public schools don't have that luxury. Most of the kids have no idea what they want to do, yet.

Public schools have been and still are the great equalizer in our nation because they really do enable kids from the lower classes to move up if they will only make an effort. But at the middle and high school level, there is nothing more influential on kids than their peer relationships. Right now, the cliche' "public schools are so bad" threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As parents who care about their kids education hear it and believe it, more and more of them will take their kids out of public schools and homeschool them or move them into private schools. If public education bashers have their way, we will eventually simply become holding cells for the kids in our society with no hopes, no dreams, and no drive. That would be a national tragedy.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

One more thought, DCS. You say you hated public school from the fourth grade on, and Elizabeth has great disdain for it. Yet, you are a consultant, and I've seen how well you express yourself in writing. Elizabeth is a psychotherapist. All I can say is that we couldn't have screwed you two up too badly.

Elizabeth said...

Dennis: I'm going to write something on my blog soon about public school. Thanks for motivating me.

doefoe said...

Were some of these diploma-less college students homeschooled or are they dropouts?

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Elizabeth, I will look forward to it. And I want you to know that, just like Warren, I'm not such a bad guy!

DCS said...

Dennis and Elizabeth: I am glad this post has inspired the conversation to continue beyond this space. Elizabeth, I encourage readers check out your blog. By the way, I can vouch that Dennis is a pretty cool guy. :-)

Dennis, you could certainly make the case for hypocrisy - just as I'm sure some colleges will make the case for accepting kids without high school diplomas. Thanks for the info on the GPAs.

I'd love to see you debate some college official on this topic. I'm sure you'd have a huge cheering section full of public school teachers!

By the way, Dennis, I attended an excellent high school. It was considered one of the best in my city. In terms of academics, my high school was second to none, and it prepared me well for college. What I hated about school were those teachers who were so rigid, they didn't seem to encourage creativity, nor did they seem to encourage a student who was an independent thinker.

At the same time, I say without hesitation that I am the person I am today because of teachers who inspired me. They also taught me well, followed my academic and professional careers, and became my cheerleaders.

I've never been one of those people who was content in coloring between the lines. However, I was the model student when it came to grades and behavior.

I am a lifelong supporter of public schools and have worked for an organization that lobbies the state on behalf of some 60 public school districts. But I call 'em as I see 'em in those areas where I think our education system needs improvement.

Dennis, you and I may have different perspectives on some issues, but we're on the same team.

Unkala: When looking at students who are accepted into college without high school diplomas, you will find dropouts, students who are a few credits short of graduation and home schooled kids. Thanks for stopping by.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Actually, I would also question the phrase "these days of elevated drop-out rates...." I think that the drop-out rate now is demonstrably lower than they were in previous decades. What we now see is still drop-out rates that are too high, but then sometimes the wrong-headed decision to lower standards to keep from challenging students so much that they give up.

This is where the accusations come from that we in K-12 education "do not prepare kids for college."

Furthermore, having a high school diploma as a gatekeeping credential to access a college career is a relatively recent requirement, at least for many land-grant state schools. Up until the 1950s or 60s, just about any resident of my home state could gain entry into some sort of state supported college-- and really cheaply too.

As Elizabeth said, if colleges take students who do not have a high school diploma, they have taken a chance on someone who has not shown the perseverance to complete a RELATIVELY simple task.

I hated high school too. That didn't mean that I had any intention of dropping out-- rather, it made me determined to get out of there as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I was told that, even though I could graduate a year early, because I was already younger than my classmates, this would not be allowed. So I spent my senior year taking classes I hadn't had time for in my schedule, which actually made that year my most enjoyable.

DCS said...

Ms. Cornelius: I think the dropout rate is still too high, especially when you disaggregate data related to black, Hispanic and Native American students. Also, some large urban districts have dropout rates ranging from 30%-50%. Clearly, that is not acceptable.

I've seen a lot of districts that have given up on nonwhite children, something I find deplorable. What does giving up look like? Here's an example: I've seen predominantly black school districts that don't offer the high-level math and science classes that students need to prepare adequately for science and technology careers.

White suburban districts offer the courses, high-achieving students of color often aren't recommended for these classes. If black and Hispanic students want to get into advanced placement places, their parents have to advocate for them.

Research indicates that the typical 17-year old black student has the same academic skills as a 13-year old white student. (Check The Education Trust website for details.) Sadly, the achievement gap still exists.

Thanks for the history lesson on gatekeeping. You provide some great insight.

I happened to run across a news story about a 10th grader in St. Louis who is skipping 11th and 12th grade and going directly to college. Of course, this is a different type of student, and the situation is hardly new. However, some readers might be interested in reading the article.

Thanks for stopping by.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

I have seen the same thing. And you know what is MOST disheartening? The person dissuading Afican American students from going into advanced track classes was an African American counselor.

I was so disgusted, outraged, and infuriated I could barely speak, which is pretty disgusted for me.

DCS said...

Ms. Cornelius: Dang (and I'm being polite). I'd be disgusted, too. Classic case of internalized racism. I've seen too much of it, I'm sorry to say.

Georganna Hancock said...

Unfortunately I came upon this post too late to be able to read the referenced article. I did want to point out, however, that many people without high school diplomas attend and are encouraged to attend college courses for enrichment purposes. Not everyone needs or wants a college degree.

I attended an excellent public school system (in the 1940's and 1950's), but it did not prepare me well for college because it didn't have a gifted program, and I was woefully underchallenged. Thirty years later, I wasn't prepared for the rigors of graduate school, either, but managed to scrape through.

DCS said...

Georganna: Thanks for making this well-articulated point.