WASHINGTON, DC -- More and more American college freshmen are finding out that they're not ready to meet the academic rigors of higher education. Too many are entering college with math and literacy skills no higher than junior high school level.
"I was a C student at McKinley Tech," said Thomas Stewart, a product of the D.C. public schools who found himself assigned to remedial grammar and writing classes when he enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia. "I never thought about whether I deserved a C or not," he said. "I didn't work very hard. I rarely did homework."
Last fall, the California State University system provided remedial courses to 60% of all entering freshmen. Campuses anticipate higher enrollments in remedial courses this fall.
Nearly a third of the nation's college freshmen took a remedial course in 1989, the most recent figure available from the National Center for Education Statistics.
In Maryland, 35% of the 1993 public and private high school graduates who went on to higher education in the state needed remedial math and about 25% needed remedial English, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
The problems associated with unpreparedness continue on into the work force, where the stakes are even higher because of the impact on the nation's productivity and global competitiveness.
A survey developed by the National Center on the Education Quality of the Work Force at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that managers at 3,000 office, factory and construction sites throughout the country consider 20% of their workers not fully proficient in their jobs. Employers also expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of schools and colleges to prepare young people for the workplace.
"The implications are very serious because we're changing to a global and an information-driven economy in the United States," said Frederick W. Anton III, chairman of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association. "Jobs are increasingly migrating out of the United States and into either countries in Europe, which do a much better job of technical education, or to Third World countries, where manual skills pay low wages."
"I think the problem is worse than statistics suggest," said Bruno V. Manno, former Assistant Secretary of Education, now senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
In New Jersey, he pointed out, results of the 1993 College Basic Skills Placement Test revealed that 74.1% of the recent high school graduates seeking college admission lacked proficiency or demonstrated only partial proficiency in verbal skills. In computation, 59.8% lacked full proficiency and in algebra 60.3% needed remediation.