# The awful truth

It’s time to tell students the truth, writes James E. Rosenbaum, a Northwestern professor, in American Educator: If you do poorly in high school, you’ll do poorly in college and on the job. A very useful sidebar explains what you need to do in high school if you want to graduate from college.

The vast majority of high school seniors say they plan to get a college degree. Yet less than 40 percent will earn a two- or four-year degree in 10 years. Success is linked closely to high school performance: While 64 percent of A students with college plans earn a two-year or higher degree; only 14 percent of college-bound seniors with averages of C or lower earn any sort of degree within 10 years. Half of the C and D students will not earn a single college credit. They’ll take remedial classes and then give up.

Because it’s so easy to get into community college — it requires a pulse but little else — “researchers found that almost 40 percent of college-bound students believed that school effort had little relevance for their future careers.” Wrong.

Homework might seem like a waste of time, but it teaches you content, time-management, and discipline — all of which you’ll need in college. Forty-four percent of high school seniors do less than three hours of homework in a week; only 14 percent of seniors do more than 10 hours. But homework time strongly predicts college success: Over half the students who do more than 10 hours of homework a week will get a four-year college degree; only about 16 percent of those doing less than three hours of homework a week will earn a bachelor’s degree.

Taking higher-level math is a predictor of college success too: 80 percent of calculus students earn a degree compared to 8 percent of students whose highest math class is Algebra 1.

Of course, mediocre high school students often end up in remedial classes which earn no college credit. A majority of two-year college students and about a quarter of four-year college students must take at least one remedial class. But “in an effort to reduce students’ feelings of inferiority, college advisors often downplay the fact that courses are remedial.” So many students don’t realize that they aren’t earning any credits toward graduation.

There are good jobs for students with strong high school skills. “Unfortunately, over 40 percent of high-school seniors lack ninth-grade math skills and 60 percent lack ninth-grade reading skills,” Rosenbaum writes. For students who go directly into the workforce, high school grades are linked to pay. B students earn considerably more than C students.

This is important for everyone to understand. Thanks to Gadfly for the link.

1. Interestingly, my sister didn’t do too well in high school (Cs) and did excellently in college (3.something GPA) — but she was definitely over a 9th grade level in math and English. (Of course, when she was in 12th grade she asked me what “liberate” meant.) In some classes, the only reason she got a C or B was because she sweet-talked the teacher. She did the least amount of homework to stay out of trouble and she hung out with high school dropouts.

She underwent a major change when she got to college — unlike high school, where she was just marking time and worried about social standing, she realized her college success meant a good job later, so she buckled down and went to work. She asked questions in the precalc and calc classes when she didn’t understand — and though the other students and even the prof made fun of her for doing this (she asked questions very often), she was the one ending up understanding and making the A. She went on to get a masters of accounting, and is a CPA now.

Again, she had picked up enough in high school to avoid remedial classes (if you don’t consider precalc remedial, and I don’t), but a crappy high school career does not doom one to a crappy college career — as long as one has a change in attitude and is willing to do the work.

2. holly says:

Nor does the amount of time spent doing homework predict college success. I used to do all of mine during class while the teacher was doing nothing but trying to get (or keep)control of the class with a ton of worksheets. Since I sat in the back, they never noticed that I was doing work for other classes while everyone else was doing the worksheets “together.” I don’t think I ever had homework in highschool. And right now, I’m earning my masters and teaching Expository Writing I & II.

3. Bob Diethrich says:

I may have posted this story on this forum before (I can’t recall so pardon the repetition if I did), but it never ceases to amaze me how many of my academic level (non Pre A.P. heterogeneous grouped) world history students manage to make it to tenth grade and start class without a notebook open or a writing utencil in their hand! And I teach at a high socio-economic school; I shudder to think about the city and poor rural schools.

Over 90% of them are going to college according to my informal survey. Most of them think they will “turn it on” in college. Every so often I point out to them stats like the ones in this excellent article.

I also point out my own experience as a lazy high school student with a good memory, who coasted through high school and then ended up essentially failing out of my first choice school in less than two years.

4. Bill says:

Actually, in the case of meep’s comments, the issue isn’t when a student blooms in terms of education, it’s having the student take courses that they shouldn’t have to take, assuming they don’t screw around in high school.

I wonder how many students really follow the recommendations by counselors in order to succeed in college (regardless of major).

I didn’t do well in college the first time around due to laziness, not because of a lack of ability. I also managed to take 3 units of math (through trig), a unit of computers (1979), 6 units of science (physics, chem, bio I/II, earth science, and physiology), 5 units of language arts (Eng I/II, Composition, Am. Lit, Spanish), 2 units of history (World and US), and a unit of US Gov’t (along with phys ed, health, careers, drivers ed, etc).

On the issue of homework, I had plenty of it in high school and college, but if you get lazy or just do the absolute minimum amount of work, it will reflect in the amount of knowledge you retain after leaving high school or college.

The harder you apply yourself in high school gives a student a fighting chance in college (assuming they weren’t lazy like I was) 🙂

5. Viv says:

You mention counselors . . . high school ones are sometimes the least helpful people there.
My high school counselor was one of the biggest impediments to my preparing for college. I went to a high school in Kansas (I’m not a Kansas native, however) and he wouldn’t help me even look at any college but a Kansas one. I would go in with a list of the honors courses I wanted to take and he would tell me there wasn’t any way I could take all of them and it was okay, I should just take the easy-A courses in art and such. I would have to sit down with the master schedule, show him how it worked, and then convince him that he should make the changes . . . I was kicked out of his office more than once.
When time came to apply for colleges, he would only give me information on Kansas universities, and when I asked about others (Dartmouth, Carleton, etc), he would just tell me I should go where I’d be appreciated. I had to research those colleges and scholarships all by myself.
My sister (four years behind me) went in after her freshman year. She’d made straight A’s. Her counselor sat her down and asked what she wanted to do. My sister said she wanted to go to Texas A&M and then become a veterinarian. This counselor told her that she’d never be able to do either of those things and she needed to choose a local college and plan on another major, because she’d never be able to accomplish that!
I know there are some counselors out there who tell students not to have goals, who tell them just to take the easy-A courses, and who don’t adequately prepare students for what to expect after high school.

6. Richard Brandshaft says:

“80 percent of calculus students earn a degree…”

I’m surprised it’s only 80%.

I suspect the causality goes the other way: it’s the students who are really serious about a good college degree in a non-trivial subject who take calculus.

It’s worth looking into what happened to the other 20%. That’s way too high for them to have all died or become seriously ill. The obvious suspicion is that we a wasting the potential of a lot of smart ambitious people for lack of scholarship money.

7. Bill says:

Taking easy A courses in high school in most cases whill leave a student woefully prepared for life after high school. In looking at recent studies, most employers these days are NOT impressed with the quality of high school (or even college) graduates.

Employers also rate high school graduates math, reading, and writing skills quite low, along with critical thinking, problem solving, and organizational skills (not really a surprise, IMO).

8. Walter Wallis says:

Since good teachers have always taught good students well, why not let the Feds take over just the bad students? Just leave the vast [?] majority of seekers and providers alone to do what they will no doubt do well.

9. Kirk Parker says:

> Homework … teaches you content, time-management,
> and discipline — all of which you’ll need in college.

The only thing wrong with this statement is that it could be read to imply that “content, time-management, and discipline” are not equally useful outside of college!

10. ricki says:

I went to a rigorous private high school where several hours of homework per night (and more on weekends) were the norm. I was also counseled to take AP classes, and in one case (Am. History) to take the AP exam even though I had taken the “regular” class. Being challenged in that way encouraged me to work hard and do my best in a way that being in a “typical” American high school class -with all the social pressures and the lack of discipline – would not.

I wound up in my first year of college not only not struggling, but teaching concepts to my dormmates that I had had in high school (e.g., reaction rate calculations) that were just barely introduced in the ‘cattle call’ classes we all took.

I have since gone on to earn a Ph.D. Doubtless family influence was part of that (both parents are college professors), but I also think I wouldn’t have been as well prapared to deal with reading 300 pages of Plato, two chemistry chapters with problems, a chapter of calculus, and a major genetics exam all in the same week if I had gone to a high school where I wasn’t pushed to do my best and kept right at the limit of my abilities.

I think what meep and several others have brought up is that there are many intelligent people out there who coast or slack through high school because they are not being challenged, or that high school has been reconstructed to seem irrelevant. What we need, I think, is to recognize that egalitarianism is very nice and all, but that telling everyone that they will move at the same (slowest) pace so as not to track students and make the ones who achieve less “feel bad”, you wind up losing a lot of bright people.

11. MarilynL says:

I was a top student K-12 academically but because I did not socialize with other students, during elementary school in the 70’s I was 1) forced to go to the school psychologist on a weekly basis, to practice smiling cheerfuly and asking, with a forced lilt in my voice, “What’s for lunch?” as if I did not know how to consult the menu, and 2) turned away from the gifted and talented program because I was “too shy” for that. During classes, with the exception of the two classes which were excellently taught, I was extremely bored, but I paid attention and took notes anyway. I took notes faster than the teachers could teach, so while waiting for the next point I would draw elaborately in the margins of my notebooks. I took as many AP and college prep courses as I could, though I didn’t believe I’d be allowed go to college…my parents didn’t, and they thought my ambitions were extravagant, expensive, and unneccessary. I did all of my homework K-12 but I didn’t spend much time studying because I could get A’s without studying. Whenever there was a research project or essay due, I would always write the whole thing the night before, and rarely get less than an A. All this posed a BIG problem when I went on to college. My study habits were absolutely horrible because my entire elementary and high school experience taught me that I DIDN’T NEED THEM. I did get my 4-year degree but it took me eight years because I worked full-time, had a child, and changed my major three times. My point is that the poor study habits hurt a lot; pulling all-nighters to write papers is practically deadly when you are working and raising a kid too.