A recent article in the Chicago Tribune presented grade point averages for graduates of area high schools and then bemoaned the fact that these students earned lower grades on average when they arrived in college. The paper’s conclusion seemed to be that the high schools weren’t preparing their students well for college academics.
It would have been surprising to me had this phenomenon not been observed. Consider two scenarios. A straight-A student from a good high school is admitted to one of the nation’s leading universities. Not all students get As at this university and this straight-A student is now competing with students who are all bright and well-prepared and hard working. Straight As may not be in the cards at least for a freshman. This student is likely to adapt to higher expectations and to find the areas of study that best match his or her abilities and inclinations. Will we be surprised then to see his or her grade point average go up?
Now consider a well-performing student who graduated from a not-so-good high school who enrolls at a state university. This student is likely to need remediation and support even to reach college-level academic work. Might not this student’s grade point average also decrease initially?
As an educator and university trustee, I certainly hope that academic standards increase from high school to college. I hear many colleagues lamenting that the true tragedy in education today is the tolerance for low standards. As a business person, I know that however I performed yesterday is not going to be good enough today if I want to stay competitive and successful.
Rather than deploring the drop in grade point average from high school to college, we should celebrate it. It means that our college students are learning something new and working to raise their performance and their expectations.