Not Ready for College

When I was a regent for Tulsa Community College, a study was done showing that 75 percent of incoming freshman required remediation in at least one subject, 50 percent in two subjects and 25 percent in three disciplines.

The vast majority of our students come from local high schools in and around Tulsa.  This was not good news for those schools.

In the January 17 edition of the Tulsa World, an article appeared written by Nate Robson of Oklahoma Watch.

Mr. Robson recounts how each year thousands of Oklahomans graduate from high school where many were on the honor roll.  They are proudly told they are college ready only to find that they are not.  For those going to state colleges and universities, 39 percent will be required to first complete at least one remedial course before taking coursework in their major.  The national average for freshman doing remedial work is 32 percent.

Mr. Robson writes, “Scores on the ACT exam show only 22 percent of Oklahoma test takers were considered proficient in math, reading, English and science, compared to 26 percent nationally.”

It was also reported that of the 2,654 graduates in Oklahoma’s two largest districts, only 10 percent enrolled at Oklahoma’s two flagship universities.

State and business leaders know that we pay a huge price “because a less educated workforce hampers the ability to grow and diversify the economy.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 24 percent of Oklahoma adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 29 percent nationally.

Mr. Robson’s article states, “Part of the problem is that the state’s graduation requirements have failed to keep pace with advancements in the workforce, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.  Most everyone agrees that we need tougher standards.”

The biggest concern for colleges is that high school students are required to take three years of science and math.  This means students could get their graduation requirements done by their junior year and coast in their senior year.  Why not add that extra year and graduate students who do not need costly remediation?

Anne Fischer, math professor at Tulsa Community College said, “I often said we don’t have a math culture in this state and in a lot of ways we don’t have a math culture in the country.”  The University of Oklahoma has a football culture and it’s not OK if they don’t do well in football.  That’s the culture shift we need in math.”

The article concludes with, “While colleges have evolved to meet the demand for jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math, many K-12 schools have struggled to adapt.”  One major reason for this lies in the economies of scale.  With 517 separate school districts, many cannot keep up. They lack the funding for AP classes; classes in the arts and music; and the inability to attract and retain talent.

Oklahoma simply must reform education before it sees real progress.  The new standards being written for math and English will go a long way to bring rigor to the classroom.

Consolidation of school districts will reduce a bloated bureaucracy without eliminating the schools themselves.  If we don’t get the reforms, the Legislature should allow parents to take their tuition dollars and enroll in a better school. The state spends 60 percent of its budget on an education system that simply doesn’t work.

If we need new dollars to fund education, Oklahoma leaders must expand the tax base and forget about raising new taxes.