Poor high school’s impact lasts

Top students at low-performing high schools earn low grades in collegeconcludes a new study. The University of Texas at Austin guarantees admission to the top 10 percent of students at every high school in the state as an alternative to race-based affirmative action.

. . .  the researchers did modeling on the performance of a female Hispanic student who enrolled at UT at the age of 18, has a mother with a high school diploma, and family income between $20,000 and $40,000. Such a student, graduating from a high-performing high school, would be predicted to earn a 3.21 grade-point average at UT. Such a student from a low-performing high school would be predicted to earn a 2.30 at UT.

That’s a huge difference. And students don’t catch up in sophomore or junior year, the study found.

Starting this fall, UT will accept students in the top 7 percent of their high school class.

The University of California guarantees admission to students in the top 4 percent of their high school class, if they’ve passed the required college-prep courses with a C or better.


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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    This is where having a “13th grade” prep year would really help. Back in college, I tutored an Inuit girl from rural Alaska in biology. She was really bright and quick to catch on but completely unprepared for the rigors of college-level science work. I helped her to scrape a passing “C” in the course, but if she’d had a solid foundation going in to college, I believe she could’ve done significantly better.

  2. Of course that’s the case. I was one of those students; I had a pretty rotten high school education, and then I went to Berkeley. So much went right over my head that I didn’t even know how much I was missing. I loved my time there and I did OK, but I could have gotten so much more out of it if I had had a better background. Or if I’d even realized how behind I really was.

    A couple of years ago I met one of the super-smart girls from my high school, who had gone to a different UC. I asked her whether she had struggled similarly, and we bonded over how unprepared we had been.

    We were lucky in that our school was only pretty bad, and not utterly abysmal. Kids coming from worse schools either struggled to survive at all, or washed out.

  3. Both the Naval Academy and the Military Academy, and probably the other Service academies, have prep school programs for such students, but I don’t think they’d take someone from a seriously bad school. It’s possible for enlisted personnel to get appointments to the Academies and I think the prep programs were originally designed for such bright kids (with outstanding service records) who haven’t had serious college prep. I don’t think that serious, multiple deficiencies (likely from really bad HS) can be remediated in a year, even for really bright kids (and even the top kids at bad schools may not be that capable). The problems really need to be fixed in k-12, and the cities have enough critical mass to offer their most capable and motivated kids separate placements, even separate schools – if the political will was there.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I agree with you, momof4, that the real problem with these underprepared students is the first twelve years of their education. But that’s not a reason for thinking that a year of remediation is futile. A year is a *long* time, especially when you’re talking about 17 year olds.

      I’d bet significant amounts of money that if you gave me a handful of students who had graduated in the top ten percent of their school for a year, together with the necessary funds, I could make 80% of them college ready, maybe more. Students like that probably have enough raw intellectual talent to catch up, and they demonstrably have enough drive to have taken time to pursue academics in a decidedly non-academic environment.

      The problem is that I wouldn’t have a year. In a “year long” program I’d have like 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, maybe 48 weeks if I’m lucky — 1,440 hours. That’s not going to cut it.

      Give me 3,600 hours — 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 50 weeks. Make it a boot-camp like boarding school experience.

      A year is a long time.

  4. Many of these districts are big enough to add the level of coursework these students need, if they only had the willpower.

    I had gen ed chem in high school…no other options as they could only run one section, the school was that small. I had to work very hard in engineering school to make up for that deficit. Classes where I was well prepared, such as mathematics which had individualized study options, were easy As.

  5. I went to a pretty good high school for my area and took the hardest classes that they offered, but we did so many crafty projects and the advanced math was taught so badly that I was not prepared for college. I did OK, but, after 2 years, when I really figured out how to study, I was suddenly earning top grades in advanced science classes. I can only imagine how difficult it is for kids who go to truly bad schools. A surprisingly high amount of effort went into teaching study techniques and habits when I taught at a CC. Now that I teach homeschooled high schoolers, I make it a point to emphasize the skills that they’ll need to be prepared.