In lamenting the poor writing skills of his students, Rutgers University Professor Jackson Toby declares that remediation in college is usually too late to help poorly prepared students succeed. He argues that we are “sending the wrong students to college“ and that literacy problems should have been addressed starting back in elementary school.
What college professors have to deal with
… Perhaps a third of the students averaged five to ten errors per page. They had computers equipped with spell-check, but that function couldn’t prevent wrong word usage. Many couldn’t keep straight when to use “there,” rather than “their” or “they’re,” “threw” instead of “through,” “sight” instead of “site,” “aloud” instead of “allowed,” “Ivy” instead of IV (intravenous), and “stranglers” instead of “stragglers.”
Parents have to instill the importance of education from an early age.
Contrary to the mantra that everyone should go to college and that the main obstacle is inadequate financial support from governments, students have to be fairly well prepared for higher education by the time they arrive on the college campus. Such preparation must begin much earlier in students’ lives, including convincing them that education has to be taken seriously if they aspire to interesting, well-paid jobs. Parents are more effective than teachers at instilling this message. Unfortunately, not all parents have their children’s education at the top of their agendas, especially parents with meager educations or serious personal problems. Poverty alone does not prevent parents from promoting high educational aspirations in their children.
Toby goes on to say that “even parents deeply concerned about their children’s education must find programs in which their children can learn the skills they will need”. With this I profoundly agree, having seen problems with ineffective curricula and teaching even in affluent suburban public schools. In the case of parents who can afford it, private tutoring may be the only way their children can learn the right skills.
A pragmatic approach
… Whatever the reasons for inadequate preparation, it is usually too late for remediation in college. Late-bloomers are mostly a myth. That being so, it is cruel to tempt all high school graduates to take out large loans to pay for college educations; for underprepared students, loans can be traps. For underprepared students compelled to default on loans they cannot repay, such loans in the one-trillion dollar portfolio of student loans are a disaster. The loans are an obstacle to becoming adults, to marrying, buying a home, and raising a family.
It’s better to emphasize vocational training and job preparation at community colleges rather than Pell grants and low-cost student loans. It isn’t a quick fix, but it’s more realistic.
Of course, Pell grants and subsidized loans are also available for vocational training. With limited exceptions, government financial aid should be limited to students who are adequately prepared to be successful in college. If that were the case, there would be different standards for vocational training and for four-year colleges.