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November 01, 2012 11:00 AM Focus on the Poor

By Daniel Luzer

According to a new report by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, it’s time for America to focus specifically on getting the underperforming ready to go to, and succeed in, college.

As the paper puts it, “too many students are coming to college unprepared, and the problem is worsening.” This sort of thing is a problem not only for colleges, but also for the country as a whole. Unprepared educationally means unlikely to succeed economically. The report focuses, however, only on preparation for college, explaining that:

Research has shown that students living in areas of concentrated poverty—regardless of race or ethnicity—are, from an educational standpoint, significantly disadvantaged. As a result, the Task Force urges AASCU institutions to place special emphasis on college readiness efforts that target the 8 million children now living in areas of concentrated poverty.
The Task Force advocates that AASCU institutions work with community partners to implement specific college readiness programs. In addition, four specific initiatives should be on all AASCU campuses: strong teacher preparation programs; alignment between the P-12 and postsecondary curriculums; provision of timely and useful feedback to the high schools regarding the performance of their graduates; and availability of dual credit classes.

Working with community partners and aligning curricula might be a positive step, but the reality is that none of this college readiness matters if college themselves have limited interest in educating the poor. This AASCU focus on the underprepared operates in contrast to the direction in which colleges are moving these days.

Realistically higher education’s greater focus on “achievement,” (specifically funding colleges based on graduation rates, rather than enrollment) and declining state funds will almost certainly lead colleges to stop focusing on low-income students, and focus more on high achieving, and reasonably affluent students.

No amount of p-12 alignment will reverse that trend. A real focus on poor students would lead decision makers to keep public tuition low, not jack it up higher and higher every year, as the trend currently goes.

Read the report here.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer