Pa. Private College Deans Endorse Higher Admissions Standards

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As more states announce higher admissions standards for their public colleges and universities and more stringent high-school graduation requirements, private colleges and universities, for the most part, have been silent about what they expect of college-bound students.

But this week, a group of deans from 12 of Pennsylvania's private colleges, after more than a year of discussion, offered specific advice to secondary-school students and officials concerning the academic preparation students need to get the most out of college.

Meanwhile, several states--including Pennsylvania, Idaho, and New Mexico--continued efforts to raise standards for high-school graduation.

And in Massachusetts, the higher admissions requirements proposed by the State Board of Regents for the state's public community and four-year colleges--including a minimum combined score of 800 on the Scholastic Aptitutde Test (sat)--stirred protests from groups that say the standards would limit the access of minority and disadvantaged students to the state's postsecondary institutions.

The Pennsylvania college deans--representing selective private institutions such as Bryn Mawr, Franklin and Marshall, Lehigh, and Swarthmore--said at a press conference announcing their initiative that they intended to work closely with state and school officials to develop student awareness of the private colleges' views.

Among the attitudes and skills students need to benefit most from educational programs, a statement prepared by the colleges said, are: "persistent curiosity, broad intellec-tual interests, skill at analytical and critical thinking, a concern for exploring and applying values, an ability to manage time responsibly, and a willingness to work hard."

In their statement, the deans also recommended that students go beyond the typical minimum requirements for secondary-school graduation in order to be "well grounded" in seven academic areas--art, English language, a foreign language, history, literature, mathematics, and science.

"We have the feeling that we are not getting what we need from students," said Richard P. Traina, dean of Franklin and Marshall College. "Though we accept only 540 students out of 3,700 [applicants]--and those students are bright kids--they are not as well trained as they ought to be. They have particular deficiencies in writing, quantitative analysis, and history."

Mr. Traina said the deans joined him in making the statement "not to blame the schools," but to "assume responsibility" for the lack of preparation of students.

"When colleges dismantled their general-education requirements and stopped teaching Western civilization and freshman writing 15 years ago, they took away the incentive for high schools to encourage preparation in those areas," he noted.

Moreover, Mr. Traina said, "when freshman writing went out, a whole generation of students--many of whom now teach writing in the schools--became deficient." Those deficiencies are being "passed along," he added, and that is a trend the 12 Pennsylvania colleges are interested in reversing.

In an unrelated move, the state board of education in Pennsylvania is making its first effort since 1969 to revise curriculum regulations. The board proposes to raise the number of courses required for high-school graduation from 13 to 18. It has scheduled public hearings on the changes in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg this week.

Among the recent developments in other states are these:

A new plan proposed last month by the state department of education in New Mexico would allow school districts the choice of one of two basic options for graduation requirements.

Under one option, school districts would be allowed to move away from the traditional "Carnegie units" by requiring that students demonstrate proficiency in each of 10 learning areas.

These include: computer literacy, health education, language arts, English, a foreign language, mathematics, physical education, science, social studies, and vocational and technical training, according to assistant state superintendent Alan D. Morgan.

Minimum-competency levels would be determined by the school district and approved by the state, according to Mr. Morgan.

Under the other option, districts would raise the number of required courses in mathematics and science and would introduce requirements in fine arts, a foreign language, vocational-skill development, and vocational exploration.

The proposal was developed using information from studies on curricular components of effective schools, Mr. Morgan said.

Some school superintendents in California spoke out last week against graduation standards adopted recently as a model by the state board of education.

They argued that the state department model is too restrictive in that it "not only sets forth required subjects but the suggested content of each course," according to William C. Rivera, a spokesman for Superintendent Harry Handler of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

California has no mandated state requirements for graduation and State Superintendent William Honig will work to establish them, according to Mr. Rivera.

The State Board of Education in Idaho last week unanimously approved more stringent graduation standards, asking that districts raise the number of required semester credits from 36 to 40 and from 40 to 42 after 1988.)

The board's action will require students to complete--with at least a C average--a total of 14 semesters of core requirements in English (eight semesters), mathematics (four semesters), reading (one semester), and speech (one semester).

Students will also be required to take four semesters of science, five semesters of social studies, one semester of health, two semesters of physical education, and two semesters of courses in the humanities. After 1988, four semesters of humanities courses--including art, music, and foreign languages--would be required.

In Florida, legislators and educators are considering a variety of plans to raise graduation standards. The plans focus on added course requirements in English, mathematics, and science.

The state is also considering proposals to extend the school year and the school day and to recognize academic achievement, according to State Commissioner of Education Ralph D. Turlington.

In Oregon, the chancellor of the State Board of Higher Education, William Davis, is urging more stringent admissions standards in the state system's colleges and universities. Mr. Davis said he has strong support for his plan to require state institutions to accept only those students who have completed four units of English, three units of mathematics, two units of science, three units of social studies, and two other college-preparatory units.

Vol. 02, Issue 20

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