S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/04.0919.highered.htm

COMMENTARY

Students need more to be better prepared for college
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

SEPT. 19, 2004 -- With South Carolina's SAT rate dead last, it's no surprise our students aren't as well-prepared for college as they should be.

Fortunately, things are getting better, according to "Measuring Up 2004," a new report card that highlights the state's higher education performance compared to 10 years ago. The report, published this week by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (www.highereducation.org), provides some stark information about South Carolina and shows the state isn't anywhere near out of the woods yet:

  • "The state continues to perform poorly in getting young people to graduate from high school."

  • "South Carolina is among the lowest performing states in percentage of young adults earning a high school credential by age 24."

  • Only a very small proportion of 11th and 12th grade students perform well on Advanced Placement and college entrance exams. But the proportion of students taking college entrance exams and scoring well has increased substantially over the last decade. The report says the number of college entrance scores in the top 20 percent nationally has doubled in the last decade from 67 per 1,000 high school graduates to 132 per 1,000. Nationally, the average is 227.

  • On the bright side, the state has substantially increased the number of secondary school students who are taught by qualified teachers. This compares with top-performing states, the report said. Ten years ago, six in 10 upper-level students were taught by teachers with a major in their subject; now, it's 74 percent - - only 7 points below the rate of top states.

Another indicator that shows South Carolina students are becoming better prepared - - but still have a long way to go - - is shown in a Statehouse Report analysis of state SAT scores.

In general, the state's public four-year colleges have higher SAT scores for this year's incoming freshmen than just two years ago. But scores for in-state students typically are lower than out-of-state students. In other words, non-resident students are better prepared for college and have higher SAT scores than in-state students. In turn, that makes a college's overall score higher.

For example, in-state freshmen this year at the University of South Carolina had an average SAT score of 1134, compared to 1184 for out-of-state students. The higher out-of-state average made the overall average higher - - 1149 at USC.

Similarly at Winthrop University, the overall score for this year's freshmen was 1069, compared to 1062 for in-state students and 1108 for out-of-state students. At Clemson, the overall score was 1203 - - 1198 for in-state students and 1212 for those from outside South Carolina. (Column continues below chart.)

[Scores for this year's freshmen are preliminary only; official scores will be reported in two weeks. Also, several colleges did not reply to requests for SAT information on the new freshman classes - - Francis Marion University, S.C. State University, USC-Beaufort and USC-Upstate. Other schools provided incomplete information - - College of Charleston, The Citadel, Coastal Carolina University.]

"It's a natural phenomenon that your out-of-state students are going to raise your SAT scores, especially in South Carolina where we're the lowest in the country," said Charlie Fitzsimons of the state's Commission on Higher Education.

So with this new report and SAT scores reflecting that South Carolina students aren't as prepared for college as students from other states, what can be done?

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Fitzsimons says it boils down to two basic things that take a long time to affect results - - having students take tougher courses and having more highly-qualified teachers.

On teachers, South Carolina is making progress. While it needs to keep its commitment to quality teachers, students need to have more challenges in schools. That means schools need to encourage students to take tougher courses. And state lawmakers need to ensure schools - - particularly those in rural areas - - have the resources available to offer advanced courses.

"If all you're doing in high school is taking the minimally-required courses, then you're going to be minimally prepared," Fitzsimons said. "If you take some higher coursework, you'll be better prepared for college."

With half of South Carolina ninth graders dropping out of school before their classmates graduate in four years, the state still has a long way to go. Policymakers should read this new report to motivate them to do what's right for higher education.


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SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Spratt. Hats off to Rep. John Spratt for being named one of Washington's workhorses by The Washingtonian magazine.

Sanford. While we may not agree with the philosophy behind Gov. Mark Sanford's actions, it's a good idea for him to be questioning state agencies on how they spend their money.

McKinney. Congratulations to longtime S.C. House Clerk Sandra McKinney on her upcoming retirement. She'll be missed.

Thumbs down

Brown. For a long time, now-U.S. Rep. Henry Brown has been throwing around his weight and muscling his way around government. Now he's been caught in a scheme to try to get out of paying a fine for burning national forest land by allegedly threatening the U.S. Forest Service. Look for this to be more than a one-day story.


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