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Schools fail to prepare kids for college, study says

David Scharfenberg
Thursday October 03, 2002

California does a poor job of preparing students for college but provides young people with an affordable higher education, according to a national study released Wednesday. 

“California is probably the top state [in the country] in terms of providing low-cost education,” said Mikyung Ryu, policy analyst for the San Jose-based National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which published the report. “[Students] should be better prepared when they enter [college].” 

The center, in its “Measuring Up 2002” study, graded all 50 states on higher education in five separate categories: preparation, participation, affordability, completion and benefits. 

California received a C- in preparing pupils for higher education and an A in affordability, matching grades from the first “Measuring Up” study in 2000. 

California held steady on its participation grade – which measured, among other things, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college – at a B+.  

Its completion grade, which included factors like the number of full-time college students graduating within six years of enrollment, jumped from a C to a C+. 

The benefits score, which measured voting patterns and income jumps for college graduates, moved from a B+ to an A-. 

The group based its preparation grade on 12 separate measures. California made progress in a few cases – the number of eighth-graders taking algebra, for instance, jumped from 21 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2002. But the state held steady or dropped in most other categories. 

The number of high school students taking at least one upper-level math course, for example, dipped from 36 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2002. 

“This is kind of an alarming result, because many other states are making progress on this measure,” said Ryu. 

Figures for Berkeley High School, in particular, were not available at press time. 

Ryu said the low cost of community college contributed heavily to California’s A for affordability. According to the center’s report, community college tuition in California amounts to only 3 percent of a low-income family’s average income, the lowest percentage in the nation. 

“A student can get a very, very good education, and fulfill all the requirements to go to any university, at extremely low prices,” said Terry Tricomi, spokesperson for Vista Community College in Berkeley. 

California residents can attend a community college full-time for roughly $300 per year under state regulations that govern every community college in California. 

The figures are not as strong when it comes to public, four-year colleges or universities. The average California family must devote 28 percent of its income to pay tuition, room and board for a public, four-year institution.  

Utah, by contrast, leads the way at 16 percent. 

But University of California spokesman Hanan Eisenman said residents get bang for their buck. 

“For the quality of UC’s education, there isn’t a better-priced education in the state,” he said. 

This year, the average fee for the nine-campus UC system, including tuition, is $3,859.  

Eisenman said the figure was $2,005 less than the average fees at four comparable universities – the University of Illinois, Michigan University, the University of Virginia and the State University of New York.