ERIC Identifier: ED477830
Publication Date: 2003-01-00
Author: Peterson, Kimberly
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Overcoming Senior Slump: The Community College Role. ERIC
A growing body of literature suggests that high school curriculum, especially
during the senior year, is greatly lacking in academic intensity. A recent
report from the National Commission on the High School Senior Year indicates
that students find the last year of high school to be "a waste of time" and
"boring" (2001, pp. 16-17). Not only are students not being challenged during
their senior year, they are also not preparing for college. The Education Trust
reports that while almost three-quarters of high school graduates are entering
higher education each year, only about half of these students have completed at
least a mid-level college preparatory curriculum (4 years of English, and 3
years each of math, science, and social studies), and these numbers drop to
about 12 percent when 2 years of foreign language and a semester of computer
science are included (2001). These reports conclude that high school students
need to be engaged in more rigorous coursework, and they advocate the
involvement of higher education institutions in providing opportunities for high
school students to enroll in more challenging courses. This digest will examine
this high school curriculum issue, and in particular, its implications for
higher education and the role that community colleges can play in combating
NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
Rather than using the final high
school year to prepare for college, an increasing number of seniors are studying
less and electing to take less demanding courses (Kirst, 2001). According to
Kirst (2001), this "senior slump" is due in part to higher education
institutions failing to provide sufficient incentives for seniors to complete
challenging coursework. College admissions decisions do not depend on
second-semester courses or grades. Additionally, community colleges often send
weak signals to high school students about the preparations they need to make in
order to succeed in college - only when students arrive for orientation or
registration are they informed that they must pass placement exams before they
are allowed to take credit courses (Rosenbaum, 1998 as cited in Kirst, 2001).
CONSEQUENCES OF SENIOR SLUMP
A wasted senior year of high
school can result in negative social and economic consequences for students
during college. Kirst (2001) indicates that students who waste their senior
year, even if they engaged in challenging courses during their preceding years
of high school, are often unprepared for college-level work and are more likely
to drop-out. These claims are supported by recent studies by the National Center
for Education Statistics (NCES). According to a study conducted by Adelman
(1999), the strongest predictor of whether a student gains a bachelor's degree
is the level of academic rigor of his or her secondary education, and Horn and
Kojaku (2001) found that three years after entering a 4-year postsecondary
institution, 87 percent of those students who had completed rigorous coursework
in high school had persisted and remained continuously enrolled at a 4-year
college or university, whereas only 62 percent of students who had not taken
rigorous secondary coursework did the same.
The consequences of "senior slump" are also reflected in the rising numbers
of students who must take remedial courses. Recent figures compiled by the NCES
show that nearly half of all 4-year college students are required to complete at
least one remedial course (Adelman, 1999), and the Bridge Project at Stanford
University estimates that over half of the students entering community colleges
directly from high school do not meet the placement exam standards (Kirst,
2001). Among those requiring remediation are students who took rigorous courses
during their early years of high school, but because they wasted their senior
year, forgot what they had previously learned. These students waste time and
money by having to repeat topics they studied in high school instead of moving
on to college-level work.
COMBATING THE PROBLEM
Rather than blaming the K-12 system
for their incoming students' lack of college preparation, community colleges are
increasingly working together with high schools in programs of early
intervention that combat "senior slump." This type of community college
involvement is especially important in districts where high schools are unable
to offer advanced courses due to staffing and financial restraints (Robertson,
Chapman & Gaskin, 2001). Three types of community college programs that
provide opportunities and incentives for high school students to be engaged in
advanced and college-preparatory coursework are:
* Concurrent Enrollment Programs: These programs offer community
college-level courses to high school students on either the high school or
college campus. Students enrolled in these courses usually receive academic
credit on both their high school and college transcripts. Policymakers praise
concurrent enrollment programs for providing more academically challenging and
rigorous coursework to high school students and for increasing student
aspirations to attend college (Boswell, 2001).
* Distance-Learning Courses: An increasing number of community colleges are
creating distance-learning courses specifically for high schools. These "virtual
high schools" provide students with the opportunity to take advanced and more
rigorous courses that are not offered at their high schools (Carr & Young,
* Middle College High Schools: Middle colleges are high schools that are
fully housed on the campuses of community colleges or universities. These
schools explicitly target students who are identified by their teachers and
counselors as being at-risk for dropping out of high school (Cunningham &
Wagonlander, 2000). Students at MCHS's are encouraged to take advanced courses
and may earn college credits and even an associate's degree by the time they
graduate from high school. The National Middle College High School Consortium
reports that middle college collaborations have resulted in improved school
attendance rates, improved grades, higher high school graduation rates, lower
dropout rates, increased rates of college attendance, and increased job
placement rates (Cunningham & Wagonlander, 2000).
In addition to the benefits that students receive from engaging in rigorous
courses, these programs can also benefit students financially. Total college
tuition costs can be reduced for students in these programs in two ways: (1) by
accelerating progress towards an undergraduate degree, and (2) in many states,
by providing totally or partially subsidized tuition costs for the college
courses (Boswell, 2001; Carr & Young, 1999).
Community colleges can also benefit financially from these programs.
Twenty-seven states allow both the K-12 school district and the community
college to count concurrent students toward their enrollment numbers for state
financial support (Boswell, 2001), and middle college collaborations allow both
the high school and community college to apply for a broader range of grants and
funding opportunities (Lieberman, 1998). Programs allowing high school students
to take community college-level courses can also raise the image of a college's
community service orientation, can serve as an excellent admissions recruitment
tool, and can aid community colleges in attracting better-prepared students
(Chapman, 2001; Lieberman, 1998).
"Senior slump" in high school can have negative
consequences for students in college, including higher remediation and drop-out
rates. While the college admissions process may contribute to this slump by not
stressing the value of the senior year, higher education institutions can help
combat "senior slump" by collaborating with K-12 institutions in early
intervention programs. Community colleges are involved in a variety of these
programs that provide opportunities and incentives for high school students to
engage in academically rigorous coursework. By providing advanced courses to
high school students, community colleges are effectively working to reduce the
social and economic costs brought about by "senior slump".
Boswell, K. (2001, Spring). State policy and postsecondary enrollment
options: Creating seamless systems. New Directions for Community Colleges, 113.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carr, S. & Young, J. R. (1999, Oct 22). As distance-learning boom
spreads, colleges help set up virtual high schools. The Chronicle of Higher
Chapman, B. G. (2001, Spring). A model for implementing a concurrent
enrollment program. New Directions for Community Colleges, 113. San Francisco:
Cunningham, C. L. & Wagonlander, C. S. (2000, Fall). Establishing and
sustaining a Middle College High School. New Directions for Community Colleges,
111. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The Education Trust. (2001, Winter). Youth at the crossroads: Facing high
school and beyond. Thinking K-16, 5(1). Washington, DC: author. (ERIC Document
Reproduction No. ED 458 351).
Horn, L. & Kojaku, L. K. (2001). High school academic curriculum and the
persistence path through college: Persistence and transfer behavior of
undergraduates 3 years after entering 4-year institutions. NCES 2001-163.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED
Kirst, M. W. (2001). Overcoming the high school senior slump: New education
policies. Washington, DC: The Institute for Educational Leadership. (ERIC
Document Reproduction No. ED 455 720).
Lieberman, J. E. (1998, Fall). Creating structural change: Best practices.
New Directions for Community Colleges, 103. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
National Commission on the High School Senior Year. (2001, January). The lost
opportunity of senior year: Finding a better way. Princeton, NJ: The Woodrow
Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 453
Robertson, P. F., Chapman, B. G., & Gaskin, F. (2001, Spring). Editors'
notes. New Directions for Community Colleges, 113. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.