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Re: [Fwd: LAO Report: Improving Academic Preparation For Higher Education]

> Many students arrive at public colleges in California
unprepared for college-level courses.

I have heard this complaint in Ohio too.
As a high school teacher, my question is why do colleges
accept such students. I remember way back when I had
to take entrance exam to get into the college of my choice.
As long as colleges accept unprepared students, they will
continue to get unprepared students. I have lot of
students come back and tell me my course is a lot harder
than what they took in college (of course there are a lot of
reasons why this could be)
Tim O'Donnell

Wouldn't it be nice if things were so simple that colleges could just
take only those they thought were qualified? Unfortunately, there are
lots of pressures on our colleges and universities, especially the
public ones to take in more students rather than fewer. For one
thing, if they only took in the qualified students, then who would
the athletes ever get to talk to? [;-)]

But seriously, folks, these schools have a certain number of chairs
to fill, and the legislatures who gave them the money to fill those
seats will be asking some embarrassing questions, and perhaps cutting
appropriations if the schools don't fill those seats. And the schools
want to grow. When they do that, they get more government money, they
can hire more faculty, the grant money comes easier, the alumni
donations come easier, all sorts of things get easier. Somehow, the
quality of the students never seems to enter into those equations.

In the case of the private schools, the students are a prime source
of income (or at least they used to be). If they didn't try to fill
all their seats, their expenses would stay about the same, but their
income would go down. I entered Stanford in 1951, the height of the
Korean war. Applications were way off, and they ended up accepting
70% of their applicants that year, an all time high. They didn't have
to accept less than qualified applicants, like me, but if they hadn't
they would have had a bunch of empty chairs and dorm beds and they
would have lost significant income without seeing a significant drop
in their operating expenses.

I personally think that colleges and universities need to be more
selective, and shouldn't feel obligated to fill all their seats, but
that's a hard idea to sell. My institution, a residential high
school, feels obligated to take enough new students each year to fill
all the dormitory beds, even though it means that we get a few
students every year who we wonder how they ever made it, and we don't
even feel pressure to field competitive athletic teams! If we didn't
fill the dorms, we would hear from the legislature, and I doubt we
would like what we would hear. Keeping all the beds filled means that
we don't have the same size classes from one year to the next, and
some years are quite large compared to the next year, or the previous
year, and this creates considerable scheduling problems for our
courses, but we do it nonetheless. We also get lots of feedback about
how much easier the courses seem for our graduates once they get to

It does seem to me, though that the selective private colleges are in
a reasonably good position to require better preparation of their
incoming freshmen (freshpersons?). They could add course
requirements, or SAT-II requirements in certain subjects, or any
number of other things that would fairly quickly increase the number
of students taking the courses included in these requirements, and
since these schools take only about 15-25% of their applicants, the
effect would probably be only to reduce the number of applicants,
since there would be fewer students who met the application
requirements (at least at first). I'm sure the admissions committees
would love that.

I read somewhere that back around the turn of the last century.
Harvard added a requirement that its applicants have completed a
physics course in high school, and that this requirement alone, from
this one college, led to a significant increase in enrollment in
physics throughout the entire country.
Wouldn't it be nice if all the selective colleges would put in a
requirement like that? Of course, then the schools would have to come
up with a whole bunch of new physics teachers, and many of them would
not be qualified. So it's an endless circle, and breaking into it
turns out to be harder than we think.


Hugh Haskell

(919) 467-7610

Let's face it. People use a Mac because they want to, Windows because they
have to..