What IS "College Ready" Anyway?



Can a test really determine if a high school student is 'college ready?'

Scores from the 2017 ACT tests for Nevada high school juniors show not much has changed in the area of college readiness. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the average ACT score was 17.4 out of 36, which is the same average score as the last three years. The Nevada Department of Education reports that four high schools in Nevada did see significant increases in ACT scores. One in Clark County and two in Elko County. The fourth is an online charter school. Editor's Note: This story originally aired July 2016


The headlines were screaming earlier this week that in Nevada only 10 percent of our high school juniors were college ready. The proof? Dismal ACT scores.

Critics point out that these students are unfairly maligned, that Nevada is one of a handful of states that mandate the ACT for all juniors, and that the students were told it was essentially a practice or baseline test.

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In other words, more students would have passed if they had cared.

But it that really all it takes? And can we really gauge “college ready” by test scores?

Many colleges and universities don't even look at test scores. They look at the person. And that opens the door for kids who are the first in their families to go to college - who are often the first in their families to grow up speaking English.

One of those universities is Northern Arizona University. Vice president of enrollment management and student affairs Erin Gresham told KNPR's State of Nevada that the school doesn't require SAT or ACT scores anymore but they do expect students to have passed a set of high school core classes.

She said there is more to being college ready than being able to answer questions on a test. Gresham said the university has a number of outreach programs to help students reach that ready goal.

"It really is about helping them reach the right mind set," she said, "And being an engaged learning. So someone who is going to take ownership of their educational experience."

She said skills like time management, finding resources when needed, talking with professors about assignments and navigating class selection are all part of that.

College of Southern Nevada Professor Sondra Cosgrove says those kinds of skills are something many middle class and above students are taught from an early age.

"That is something that starts at almost Pre-K level that parents are instilling in their child that 'you will go to college.'" she said, "If your family isn't oriented that way you're going to miss out on that."

Gresham agreed that there can be a divide between what the university expects and the skills many students have.

"They come... with a lack of that family knowledge about the higher-ed environment and what that entails and what the norms and expectations are of being a college student," she said.

Gresham said the university tries to bridge that gap with programs to help students not only understand those expectations but find a place at the university for them.

Despite CSN being primarily a commuter school, Cosgrove said the college is working to help people find their spot. 

"If you're a first-generation student being on a college campus is a very alien experience but you're not sure what do to and you don't want to look stupid," she said, "They need a safe space where they can come and say 'Okay, now I understand what we do and this is not so scary.'"

Gresham said when a student finds a community whether it's through a group, an organization, a residence hall, a faculty member, a class or club he or she does well at school. 

Cosgrove said in the past if a student wasn't ready for college they may drop out and get another job that doesn't require a college degree. However, she said the economy has changed and those jobs are not there. 

Plus, keeping those students in college is important to meet goals laid out by the Legislature to keep a certain level of funding.

"Faculty have to realize you can't just sit and lecture at students anymore," she said, "You have to be purposeful about crafting assignments. You've got to use assessment. You've got to use pedagogical strategies that help the student gain the skills to be college ready, while you're teaching them content."


Sondra Cosgrove, professor, College of Southern Nevada; Erin Gresham, vice-president, Northern Arizona University’s Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

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