By Brock Vergakis
Only about 50 percent of West Virginia’s graduating high school seniors believe their high school education fully prepared them for college, according to a report that will be presented to state lawmakers on Monday.
The West Virginia Education Policy Commission conducted an opinion survey from a sampling of the state’s graduating seniors in 2012, falling on the heels of similar surveys in 2008 and 2010. The survey is intended to give policymakers insight as to why more students aren’t getting a college education, which state officials say is necessary to grow the state’s economy. The commission says the state will need 20,000 more certificate or degree holders by 2018 just to meet West Virginia’s expected workforce needs.
While the report says most graduating seniors met the academic requirements to enroll at a public, four-year college in West Virginia, many didn’t perceive they were fully prepared to do so. Only 12.4 percent of survey respondents said they felt “very prepared” for college, while 37.6 percent said they felt “prepared.” Another 39.3 percent felt “somewhat prepared” while 10.7 percent felt they were “not prepared at all.”
“Although academic preparedness may suggest students are ready to enter college, their perceptions of preparedness can also inform matriculation decisions,” the report says. “There is still work left to be done to improve student feelings of college readiness. Increasing college access efforts and aligning high school curriculum with college entrance requirements may help students feel more prepared.”
While policymakers look for ways to boost enrollment, the report notes that students’ socio-economic status is typically one of the strongest predictors of whether someone will attend college. The survey shows that 43 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. The report also says that 35 percent of respondents didn’t have a family member who had attended college, which presents them with unique challenges.
“Often, first generation students lack the necessary skills and knowledge required to navigate the collegiate landscape,” the report says. “Having a parent that attended college gives non-first generation students both tangible and intangible resources that increase their likelihood of matriculation.”
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, the West Virginia Department of Education noted it is important for school systems to work with parents and others in community throughout a child’s educational career to prepare them for college.
“Preparing a student for college success takes years of academic efforts as well as the acquisition of other skills such as the ability to communicate with peers, teamwork, time-management and self-direction. Our challenge as educators is to make it as seamless as possible for a student to matriculate from a pre-K classroom through a two-year or four-year college program,” the statement says. “We continue to give students the most effective tools but it is also important that the community and family culture supports and promotes education.”
West Virginia’s college matriculation rate among recent high school graduates is 62 percent, five percentage points below the national average. The reports note that parents and siblings who went to college can help students select their courses in high school in order to prepare them for the application process, among other things.
The report says a rigorous curriculum, good grades and high ACT scores help prepare students for college, and the average grade point average for seniors was a 2.99. In 2012, the average ACT score was 21.33. That grade and ACT combination means most students would meet the minimum requirements for admission to a public college in West Virginia: a minimum 3.0 GPA or a 2.0 GPA with a minimum composite ACT score of 18.
West Virginia offers high school students three course paths - one for those wanting to attend a four-year college, one for those wanting to enter the workforce directly after high school and one to prepare students for a two-year college. In 2012, 64 percent took courses to go to a four-year college.
Among other things, the survey says about 57 percent of students overestimated the one-year cost of tuition at a public, in-state, four-year college. The average price for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year West Virginia college year was $5,532 in 2011-12, compared with $8,244 nationally for public universities, according to the College Board. The survey notes that respondents said cost is an impediment to attending college.
On Monday, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hill will present the survey’s findings to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis