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Talk-ED: Same dream, same nightmare

Stuart Middleton
16 May 2011

There is quite a lot of current interest in transitions from the K-16 education system and postsecondary education. This is a complex area and among other things there is a focus on careers education and the kinds of advice that students seek and receive. 

A report[1] completed in 2003 challenged the extent to which the USA education systems had met their end of the bargain in helping students manage that transition. In fact the report’s title makes clear how the authors concluded that they had not – “Betraying the dream.” One interesting table catalogues some common misconceptions about preparing for and attending postsecondary institutions especially university. The myths that might well apply to our education system are: 

            I can’t afford to go to university 

The report found that US students regularly overestimated the cost of going to university. 

            I have to be a stellar athlete or student to get financial aid 

This has a particular US flavour to it with the extensive sports programmes that tertiary institutions have. In fact there is a wide range of financial aid available to students. Do students in New Zealand have accurate information about the costs, the costs of borrowing through student loans and the assistance available through allowances? Do students understand these to such an extent that they can explain them to their caregivers? 

            Meeting high school graduation requirements will prepare me for university  

There is generally a discrepancy between high school graduation levels and the entry requirements into tertiary institutions and into some programmes within them. In New Zealand it seems as is NCEA Level 2 is emerging as a “School Leaving Standard” which would equate to the US high school graduation (a term not used in this country). 

            Getting into college is the hardest part 

Have we got news for you! For most students the hardest part will be completing the tertiary course – many don’t! 

            Community colleges don’t have academic standards 

Is this a perception that New Zealand students have of, say, polytechnics? The community college has similarities to our polytechnics (although the NZ institutions offer a more extensive set of qualifications that are longer and at a higher level than the typical two year qualifications of the US community college – but the open access is common to both. Is this part of the process that sees some New Zealand students ostensibly headed towards a university programme for which they are ill-prepared? 

            It’s better to take easier classes in high school and get better grades 

Success in taking tougher courses in high school is a constant predictor of success later – merely harvesting credit is no substitute for a sound academic preparation for higher and further education. 

            My senior year in high school doesn’t matter 

You would think sometimes, what with balls of both the sporting and the dancing kind that this myth is well and truly alive in New Zealand! Should some students be moving through the senior school more quickly? 

            I can take whatever classes I want when I get to university 

It is all a little bit tighter than students understand. Some universities have lifted their general entry standard so that it is higher than the plain “University Entrance”, many courses have particular requirements. These should be known by students well in advance of course selection in the final two years of school. 

And this raises an important question. Are students encouraged to think about the detail of their future pathway, especially those who are headed towards university? Do they understand the detail of it all? Is the importance of those last two years at school in terms of future success at university well understood? Or do too many students simply drift toward their postsecondary futures? 

[1] Andrea Venezia,  Michael W. Kirst, and Anthony L. Antonio (2003) Betraying the college dream: How disconnected K-12 systems undermine student aspirations, The Standford Institute for Higher Education Research.

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