Fresh off the boat

    Eleanor Roosevelt College Freshman Elgene Crescini carefully studies the campus map in search of the lecture hall for his next class. It takes him a few moments, but he finally gathers his books and heads for the class. Cresenci is among the fresh batch of freshmen who must not only find their way around the large campus but also in the world of academia.

    According to a report by A.C.T., producer of one of the nationally administered tests used for college admissions, half of high school graduates starting college this fall do not have the reading skills needed to succeed in college courses. Even fewer are prepared for college-level math and science courses.

    The report used a College-Readiness Benchmark, first developed last year, which correlates test scores of earlier students and the grades that they received in their first year of college.

    “The reason for the report is simply to help future generations of students to prepare themselves better, to be able to see where we are now and how well we are preparing them in general for college,” A.C.T. spokesperson Ed Colby said.

    According to the benchmark, students who score 21 or higher on the A.C.T. reading test are “likely to succeed,” or earn a “C” grade or higher in their college social science courses. Only 51 percent of the 2005 graduates reached that score.

    Additionally, only 41 percent and 26 percent of those students reached the benchmark for math and science, respectively. There were 1.2 million students who took the test last year.

    While only 14 percent of graduates in California took the A.C.T., as opposed to the more popular Scholastic Aptitude Test, college readiness has been a long-standing issue among educators and policy makers.

    Colby said that the root of the problem lies in failing to prepare students while they’re still in high school. He said that more informative programs addressing the importance of challenging students early on should be available to parents and teachers

    “We’re urging schools (and also the states) to look at their graduation requirements, making sure that those requirements are at a certain level for students to be prepared for college and the work force,” Colby said.

    Director of Media Relations of Student Educational Achievement Michael Dabney, who provides academic enrichment programs for students both in high school and the undergraduate level, said that lack of support from parents sometimes prevents students from getting the preparation they need. This could be a result of students coming from low-income families or having parents who have not attended college themselves and do not have proper information for their children.

    “Parents play a very integral part in student preparation in college,” Dabney said. “Even believing that college is possible is necessary.”

    At UCSD, which accepts either A.C.T. or SAT scores, more than 95 percent of students use their SAT scores to apply to the university, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions Mae Brown said.

    “We’re admitting academically prepared students here at UCSD,” Brown said. “In the last year, only about 5 percent of students were experiencing academic difficulties at the end of their first year.”

    Brown said that most students at UCSD are doing well mostly because those admitted were already part of a very academically strong pool.

    Students accepted to any UC must clear the Entry Level Writing Requirement (formerly Subject A) before they can sign up for writing courses. For a UCSD student, failure to meet this requirement could be a significant roadblock to completing his or her college core sequence, such as Dimensions of Culture or Making of the Modern World, which are necessary to clear general education requirements.

    UCSD students who do not meet the minimum requirement of a three or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement Examination in English, a five or higher on the International Baccalaureate Higher Level Examination in English, a “C” or better in a UC-transferable English composition course or a passing score on the UC Analytical Placement Examination must complete course work at the San Diego City College. Only after passing the exit exam for this course and maintaining a “C” or better can students go on to their writing courses.

    “This requirement makes sure that when students come to their college writing sequences and other courses that require writing, they will be able to communicate reasonably and have a certain degree of literacy that will allow them to succeed in those courses,” Coordinator of the Basic Writing Program George Hansen said.

    Hansen estimates that there will be 680 UCSD students taking the classes at SDCC to meet the requirement this fall.

    Higher-level math courses also require students to complete either the SAT II math exam with a certain score, Advanced Placement math, a UC-transferable course in mathematics or a placement examination. The requirements are similar for the chemistry and language departments.

    Even with these requirements in place, those who will be attending college courses for the first time still have concerns.

    “I took all the AP classes,” Crescini said. “I’m taking classes that I supposedly already had in high school, but honestly, I’m afraid that high school doesn’t compare at all.”

    Brown agrees that early preparation is key to success in college and having support from parents can help students to better equip themselves for the future.

    Since high school preparation is one of the key factors in college readiness, most seem to agree that students are not being offered the challenging courses that they need.

    According to a recent study by the Educational Testing Service, most Americans say that high schools are not challenging students.

    “Parents by and large want all their students to graduate with the same skills and abilities as if they were all going to college,” ETS spokesperson Tom Ewing said. “They don’t necessarily believe all students need to go straight to college, they may go to work or vocational school, but regardless of where they go, students should get the high-quality educations.”

    ERC freshman Hatty Lee said that she is aware of the differences between college and her high school classes, but is not sure whether or not she is prepared for her courses this fall. However, Lee said that she has already taken language classes at community colleges during high school.

    “I don’t know if high school prepared me [for my classes],” Lee said. “But I kind of know what to expect in college, that there’s nobody going to be babying me, watching out when or if I go to class. I know that I have to do it on my own.”

    For UCSD students who do find themselves in a bind during their classes, several programs are available for assistance. The Office of Academic Support and Instructional Services (OASIS) offers tutoring in various subject areas from math to language classes. OASIS also has a Summer Bridge Program where selected incoming freshmen attend classes during the summer for four weeks. The program also includes activities that help students acclimate to UCSD.

    “The first year is such a critical year in a student’s academic career,” Dabney said. “Everything’s new, and everything’s a challenge. College life can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it.”

    The Academic Enrichment Program helps undergraduates to become more connected to faculty members. The program pairs students with faculty mentors to learn more about research in their particular area of interest.

    Dabney said that the biggest obstacle to early preparation and avoiding difficulties during college is an overall commitment to education from all areas.

    “I feel that commitment needs to be there,” Dabney said. “The educational system needs to be re-examined and we need to ask ourselves if we are training the best students that we can.”

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