School study shows need to be informed

Monday, September 29, 2003

An important study used hard figures to reinforce the axiom conscientious parents have been telling their teens for years: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

In this case, the planning involved means comparing the requirements to get out of high school to the ones required for college. According to a study released this month by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, only 32 percent of all students in the nation leave high school with enough and the correct credits to qualify them to attend a four-year university. And while local high schools tout the number of their students who go on to higher education, Missouri as a whole ranked ninth lowest in the nation for the number of students graduating with adequate transcripts for their college careers.

The gap is apparent when one compares the requirements for Southeast Missouri State University with two of its main feeder high schools in the area: Central High in Cape Girardeau and Jackson High.

Jackson, for example, requires only three units of communication arts to graduate, but Southeast requires four for admission. Both Jackson and Central require only two units of math and science to graduate, but Southeast requires three to get in.

It may seem obvious that high schools should increase the number of units required for graduation, but the issue isn't black and white, local counselors warn. If the requirements are set too high, low-achieving students already frustrated with the standards will drop out, leaving high school without a diploma or even minimal skills to get a job that pays decent wages.

When parents get involved or when counselors are available, bridging the gap between these relatively low prerequisites is easier for students, but that doesn't always happen. With three counselors for 1,200 students at Jackson High School and four for the 1,300 students at Central, it's tough to give individual attention to all.

In the absence of those options, the area is fortunate to have access to Upward Bound, a U.S. Department of Education program that helps low-income students graduate from high school and prepare for college.

Upward Bound students spend six weeks very summer preparing for high school courses they'll take the next school year. They spend two Saturdays a month working with teachers to keep up with their course work during the school year, and other educators help students fill out scholarship applications.

However, wise parents and teens with the background to handle such planning themselves will check on the entrance requirements for their target colleges and universities before the teens begin their freshman year. That way, they can get the classes they need to meet their academic and, ultimately, career goals.

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