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Steve Hansen: Reporter missed the whole story on college admissions

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:00 am

Recently, an article distributed by a multinational news agency claimed that only 38 percent of high school seniors were eligible for admission to the California State University or University of California systems. This was because of failure to meet all of the “A-G” course requirements.

While the basic facts of the piece are accurate, the conclusion seems to have missed the mark.

The implication is that kids aren’t going to college because they are failing to take required courses for acceptance. The article also states that the value of a four-year college degree “has never been higher.”

Let’s start with the latter assertion first. A Washington Post story by Brad Plumer revealed that the “vast majority” of U.S. college graduates cannot find work directly related to their degrees. Based on data from the U.S Census Bureau and other sources, only 27 percent of graduates had jobs for which their college degrees had prepared them. In 2010, only 62 percent of graduates had jobs that required a college degree.

Not only are a majority of young college grads underemployed for their levels of education and training, but many enter the job market with thousands of dollars in debt. For them, economic sacrifice and repayment of school loans are both long-term and unpleasant realities.

It would be nice if a pundit’s prediction in the same media piece comes true that California will have one million fewer college graduates than needed in 2025. But with the present economic conditions — along with high taxes, overly strict environmental regulations and a state that Chief Executive magazine called the worst place to do business in America, that outlook seems overly optimistic.

Now, back to the assertion that only 38 percent of high school graduates meet the California university “A-G” subject requirements. These courses range from Algebra II to four semesters of a foreign language. They also include a laboratory science — such as chemistry or physics.

However, what the story failed to mention is that our system of higher education is different from many other states. Most California high school graduates move on to community colleges, not universities. They do so for three important reasons:

First of all, California has some of the toughest requirements in the country for freshman entry into a state-sponsored university. Why? Because our state has the oldest and most elaborate community college program in the nation. Most freshman students take full advantage of this.

The second reason is low tuition, as compared to other postsecondary institutions.

A third point is the relatively easy entry requirements. A person 18 or older doesn’t have to be a high school graduate in order to attend a two-year public college.

Locally, Lyndon Blodgett, a counselor at Lodi High School, estimates that more than half of his students attend community college after the 12th grade. The majority of these do not meet all of the CSU/UC A-G requirements.

But what about these requirements? How does their absence among so many high school students affect eventual entry into a four-year school? According to the “Counselor General” at San Joaquin Delta College, it doesn’t.

Once a student completes 60 transferable units, he or she can move as a junior to a California State University or the University of California. At that point, admissions are based solely on community college academic performance. High school records and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores are no longer a consideration.

If we use data complied by Delta College, 26.16 percent of students become “transfer ready” after two years. Of this number, 12.88 percent move on to a state college or university. Therefore, we can safely say the conclusion that only 38 percent of our students become eligible for admission to the California State University or University of California systems is clearly an underestimation. It’s not an accurate predictor of how many will move on to a four-year degree.

So, as you can see, not all reporters from large media outlets get their stories straight. But if readers really want to know all of the facts about an issue, then research beyond a condensed news story is certainly a valuable and worthwhile “extracurricular” activity for them to pursue.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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