From 10th Grade Straight to College?
Pennsylvania is one of eight states that is considering participating in a program that, beginning in 2011, will allow high school students to enroll directly in community college if they pass a series of exams at the end of their sophomore year.
It’s intended to address a number of issues. For one, the high dropout rate among college freshmen. For another, the fact that many high school classes (like APs) are supposed to be college-level anyway. And another, since this plan was proposed by the National Center on Education and the Economy, is so that people can enter the workforce earlier.
Students who pass these exams can only enroll in community college, so not Penn State, for example, but conceivably they could transfer after a year. However, the program’s proponents say that those who are aiming for colleges above the community level would remain in high school but would take college preparatory courses. Those who fail could retake the exams at the end of junior and/or senior year. According to Michael Race of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the program is not fully developed, and individual high schools would be able to elect to participate or not, but specific schools would not be singled out to be drafted into the program or denied participation.
I can see a couple problems with this program. Number one, and perhaps the most obvious, is the possible social implications. Community college is still college, and I can’t imagine at all a 16-year-old college freshman on the same campus as a 22-year-old senior. And if they transfer, we could potentially have 16- or 17-year-old college sophomores at Penn State, which I just can’t see working out smoothly.
Also, if we allow proficient students to skip their last two years of high school, aren’t we abandoning faith in our high schools to adequately educate? This program might end up being divisive, with the community colleges becoming the springboard to college for the students above a certain exam grade, and the high schools taking on a more remedial character. I think we have to stand behind the public education system, and, if possible, fix the high schools if that’s what needs to be done, rather than totally giving up on them and giving the job to someone else.