The Inverted U-Curve of College Prep

Two editorial pieces caught my eye recently. The first is an Inside Higher Ed essay on uselessly punishing high school students with the message that preparation for college means taking the maximum available number of Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment courses. The essay refers to a 2013 study at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that found that first-year college performance among students who had taken six or more college-level courses during high school was the same as or worse than those who had taken fewer such courses.

The second item is about research on the deteriorating mental health of college students in the USA, UK, and Canada. Parenting, social media, and a hyper-competitive view of college admissions have led children to adopt perfectionist mindsets, which too often translate  into paralyzing fear, anxiety, and depression. As college students have become more narcissistic and less empathetic, they have become less able to productively manage stress.

It seems like too many teenagers are being set up to fail by the very systems that are supposed to ensure their collegiate success. And once these teenagers enroll in college, it becomes the faculty’s responsibility to deal with the results.

Yet, if your university is anything like mine, there is an institutional disconnect between college admissions and college instruction. The process of applying to and entering college provides admissions offices with a treasure trove of data that isn’t shared effectively with faculty members. I am not informed which students in my classroom may have already been identified as academically or otherwise at risk. This ignorance makes me less likely to pay closer attention to the students who are most likely to botch the transition to college — a situation that can give rise to very expensive outcomes for both students and the university.

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