Predicting Students’ Ability to Succeed in College: Could It Help Graduation Rates?

“Take a look to your left. Now take a look to your right. One of these people will not make it to graduation.”

During your college orientation, it is common for there to be one member of academia who stands with their microphone before a freshmen audience and says this line. It’s true. According to a study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education, out of the four million students who began college in 2004, half of them did not graduate. The number of students who drop out of college continues to increase.

An article published July 31, 2012 by Jennifer Gonzalez suspects that part of the problem lies with students enrolling into school who just aren’t ready to take on the challenges of college level coursework. The article points to the use of placement tests in community colleges in particular as an ineffective tool when it comes to determining a student’s readiness for higher education.

One of its flaws is that it’s a standardized test that only focuses on math and English skills. It’s a fairly accepted idea in education at this point that these kinds of tests are not an accurate measure of one’s abilities. There are many highly-talented students who earn straight As in school that still won’t perform well on a performance test. Similarly, there are students who can score very highly on these kinds of tests but don’t have what it takes to pass a college course.

As one educator indicates in the article, it takes a lot more to succeed in college than a high test score. You could have all the brains, but if you don’t have the motivation to complete your work, or to show up to class, you won’t make it through college. You could score in the highest percentile on your SATs but be unable to pick yourself back up when you fail. You could ace an entrance test, but still have no desire to be in college in the first place! Placement tests in general are only a very narrow peek inside what a student would be capable of in college. It is suggested in the article that if anything, high school grades would be a much more accurate representation of how a student is expected to perform.

While high school grades, motivation, and persistence are all major factors that can help to determine whether or not a student can succeed at the college level, even this seems to just barely be the skin of the issue. What about one’s readiness to leave home? What about one’s ability to act in social situations? How about emotional maturity? There’s a lot of character to consider.

In addition, the level of difficulty amongst degree programs is not consistent, nor are they all taught with the same methods. What is the standard by which these students are being evaluated and compared?

This leads to the overall question: Is it possible to predict how a student will perform in college, and if so, how can this information help increase graduation rates in the years to come?


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