Study: Freshman year should be 13th grade

Adam Milasincic

The transition from high school to college is hard enough for students, and many state governments are making it harder, according to a new study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and two allied groups.

Because academic standards in K-12 schools are different from those in higher education, students often enter college with skewed notions of how to succeed, said Andrea Venezia, co-author of the report.

“Getting in is wonderful, but it’s not necessarily the hardest part of college,” Venezia said.

In Ohio, only 29 of 40 students who enter college immediately after high school stick around for a second year, according to National Center data. Just 19 of the original 40 will earn a degree within a traditional time frame. The Ohio figures are nearly identical to the U.S. average.

The center’s 68-page report recommends a four-fold approach to boosting degree completion rates by smoothing the gap between high school and college. It advocates a “K-16” approach to education because “students’ aspirations are continuing to rise, yet college opportunity has not increased.”

Specifically, the study calls for better-aligned courses and test standards, funding policies that “support collaboration between schools and college,” more accountability and more integrated databases.

While there is little organized opposition to the study’s findings, there is also little organized support.

“This type of issue is difficult because there’s no natural constituency,” Venezia said. “I think it’s a collective responsibility, and collectively we’ve failed in the past.”

The report acknowledges that its suggestions would require action from state legislatures and governors across the country. The authors specifically rule out blue-ribbon commissions as a solution, saying that actual legislation is needed.

In the meantime, Venezia said, current high school students can take matters into their own hands by carefully studying college course catalogs and policies before they apply. She said campus visits, whether scheduled or not, are also useful because they allow students to observe daily college life.

The report focuses on K-16 reforms in Florida, Georgia, New York and Oregon. It also limits its findings to the 80 percent of students who attend “broad access” colleges with less rigorous admission standards.

Copies of the report, The Governance Divide: A Report on a Four-State Study on Improving College Readiness and Success, are available online at

Contact news correspondent Adam Milasincic at [email protected].