“College Readiness”: Two approaches

There’s a push to include a “college readiness test” as a qualification for receiving a Pell grant, and there’s no way that could possibly be anything but the best of intentions:

Secondary schooling is compulsory, which requires a commitment from the State to provide access to the primary qualification for Pell — a diploma or GED. A college readiness test would come with no State obligation. The ridiculous notion that excluding poor students who aren’t college ready from Pell would magically incentivize public education to get on the ball with preparing all students is the kind fairy dust that gives us trickle down economics.

There is no moral imperative behind instituting a college readiness barrier beyond “saving money”. But it is never clearly stated whose money we are saving or for what ends. Are we saving poor students’ money? Obviously not if we are denying them a grant and forcing them to rely on student loans more than they already do.

So whose money are we saving? I suspect we mean real peoples’ money. You know, not-poor real people.

Yes, there will always be exceptions to the rule – some genius child who claws his way up into college readiness because the library is the only place in Biloxi with free air conditioning (lookin’ at you here, Jude) – but it remains that Pell grants aren’t intended for the exceptions, scholarships are. Pell grants are for helping out everyone.

UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison have, over the past 10 years, decided that they want their freshmen to be college-ready. And that’s justifiable, of course, but what they’ve done is not to simply say “we’ll kick you out if you’re not” or worse, “we won’t even let you in” – they’ve developed the PEOPLE Program. The program does tutoring after school for free, summer programs that actually pay the kids to attend, and helps them prepare an application to UW. To qualify, you have to keep your grades up, but also be two of [first-generation college student, poor, racial minority]. If you’re accepted to UW (not guaranteed), you get four years of full scholarship and access to tutors and a private computer lab, among other things.

The big, huge, crucial difference here is not the college-ready requirement, which, on its face, is justifiable. The Pell grants are trying to use the requirement to shut those they deem unworthy out of a university education, and save money in the process. The UW, on the other hand, views that requirement as a huge money sink, but worth it not only for the quality of their own student body but also for the individual betterment of their community. Do I think the Pell grants should have a college-readiness test? I’m not sold. But Ido think that such a requirement would inherently come with a responsibility to ensure that the government is actually giving students the education they need to become college-ready, and unless you’re going to be inexcusably classist (and, as the post I linked points out, therefore racist), that’s not a money-saving endeavor.

(Full disclosure: I taught the computer science module at last summer’s PEOPLE workshop.)

3 thoughts on ““College Readiness”: Two approaches

  1. In Louisiana there’s something similar called TOPS — no introductory classes or tutoring, but in-state students who maintain a certain GPA get a grant that covers tuition. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a good idea and good investment…and of course wingers assail it at every opportunity.

  2. Congress is seriously considering spending one trillion dollars (not including the inevitable cost overruns) for 2,343 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to be used against some mythical enemy, and we’re quibbling over peanuts in order to give a few kids an opportunity?

  3. Didn’t some Wisconsin clown just recently spout off about how it’s tyranny that the wealthy People’s Republic of Madison is doing programs like this?

Comments are closed.