Too many young people who start college falter and never finish. This happens frequently in their first year. It is common among students who attend broad-access public institutions, typically two- and four-year colleges in their regions. This large group includes many students from low-income backgrounds, who often are the first person in their families to pursue higher education, and many who are required to take remedial courses before entering credit-bearing, college-level courses.
The fault lies not with students but with the failure of our K-12 and postsecondary systems of education to build better bridges between the two sectors. At high school graduation, students exit a compulsory secondary education where completion is a primary aim. They are left on their own to choose whether to continue in a voluntary postsecondary system, where student success based on one’s ability to “sink or swim” has traditionally been viewed as normal. State K-12 curriculum, standards, and accountability rules have been increasingly designed to better prepare high school graduates for college and career readiness, and more colleges are trying strategies to support incoming student success. But the structure of our education systems still presumes that the job of high schools ends upon the completion of 12th grade and that the job of colleges starts when students enroll.