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(Cross posted at For Our Future.)

Gov. Phil Bredesen, a democrat from Tennessee, is championing a set of proposals designed to improve higher education. Gov. Bredesen is proposing to invest an additional $50 million dollars to improve graduation rates, make available more individual attention to students and provide free tuition at community colleges for pupils who score a 19 or higher on the ACT entrance exam.

Gov. Bredesen appears to be motivated by the right reasons. A Tennessee newspaper editorial accurately pointed out that "people who fail to get their diploma or a GED are doomed to low-paying jobs, if they can find them at all. And they are more likely to turn to crime or be another kind of drain on the public coffers." Making academia more accessible for working class and returning students is always commendable.

 However, I think there are some problems with Bredesen's approach. Merit scholarships are problematic because they tend to favor wealthier students. The Tennessee proposal for free tuition is based on the ACT, a standardized test similar to the SAT. Just as with SAT, rich students can afford expensive test preparation materials. A merit based scholarship student does not really provide opportunities for students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds.

At any rate, it is refreshing to see a Democratic politician take an aggressive approach to higher education policy. Young people are a very progressive voting block and they need to be mobilized if Democrats are going win elections. In many races, the youth vote can provide the margin of victory for a candidate.  

Originally posted to benwaxman on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 05:20 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  19 on the ACT is a very average score... (2+ / 0-)

    A 19 on the ACT is really average score. I know I got one myself back about 12 years ago when I first start by run of degrees. I'm working on Masters 2 now.

    If they said anyone with a 29 or 30 on the ACT could go free then I would start complaining of elitism. But a 19, I think that just about anybody walking in cold off the street could make a 19. I got both a 19 and a 21 on two different testing occasions. I'm not even all that great at taking those damn tests either.

    I think the TN plan will help out lots of people, especially the poor in Rural TN where lots of people do live and this will give them the chance to go to college. I also lived in small town TN where I worked and went to school for 11 years. So I'm glad to see that State is finally doing something nice for Higher education and the students in it.

    •  yeah (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      salvador dalai llama

      I don't know a ton about the ACT-- you may be right that it is an average score. Still, there are problems with merit based scholarships no matter where the bar is set.

      "Think critically and take risks." - Eqbal Ahmad

      by benwaxman on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 06:32:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A very low score (0+ / 0-)

      That 19 is not very high and such students in my experience will still have difficulty doing college-level work.

      Not a good number.

      The wise are driven by reason; ordinary minds, by experience; the stupid, by necessity, and brutes by instinct. Cicero

      by MoDem on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 06:34:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  national average in 2002 was 20.8 (0+ / 0-)

        This is what I found on Google:

        The national average ACT Composite score for the high school graduating class of 2002 is 20.8, down slightly from 21.0 last year. The average Composite had held steady at 21.0 since 1997.

        So, yeah, 19 is slightly below average. On the other hand, community college is basically for people who need to prep for a four-year school, so it seems like an appropriate score.

  •  We desperately need more $$$ for public schools (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Xan, salvador dalai llama

    Our schools don't have enough money to properly maintain the buildings, the teachers aren't paid anywhere near what they're worth, and we have no public money at all for extracurricular activities. You could double the budget for public education in Tennessee tomorrow, and you wouldn't be wasting a dime.

    In November I will vote for Bredesen with great enthusiasm. The legislature needs to stop it already with the road contractors & put more money into education.

    Here is a map of current expenditures per student in elementary and secondary public schools, courtesy of the National Science Foundation. The data used to make the map are here. We are almost last! We are behind Alabama! Are we going to be like this forever? This is unacceptable.

    Bredesen has good proposals in this department. Hopefully enough Tennessee voters will realize it.

    •  I see the results of it (3+ / 0-)

      I've just been grading papers from a second-semester freshman comp class. Coherent, structured paragraphs are rare. Often the sentences are disjointed, with glaring errors in basic grammar and spelling. Transitions are simply sprinkled in, rather than connecting ideas.

      I've had students tell me they've never read a book, even for school. Others think that they won't have to write anything after college.

      Many come in thinking "education" means memorizing facts, and have an incredibly difficult time looking at evidence and drawing conclusions.

      They're not stupid. They're bright and engaging, and often aware that their education was profoundly limited.

      But it's so difficult to make up for lost time. We only have them for a couple of years, and there's much to do in helping them develop the habits of mind that will serve them as educated citizens.

      •  Clearly these people have been listening (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        salvador dalai llama

        to too many public speaking engagements by G. W. Bush.

        OT but was that last "press conference" the other day not truly frightening? The. man. cannot. speak. a. coherent. sentence. Never mind grammar, transitions, connecting ideas... and paragraphs? Obviously for sissies and cut 'n' runners.

        It struck me that if practically any other public figure--oh let's say Bill Clinton--was up behind a podioum and started rambling around in this disconnected fashion, the first person up to ask a question would say "Sir, are you feeling all right?" and probably start waving to a staff member offstage as if to suggest that perhaps a doctor should be summoned.

        Ahem, back on topic, as the parent of a Tennessee high school senior I am all in favor of more aid for higher education, stat. Need based or merit based are both fine as we are poor as dirt and the kid got a 30 on his ACT and aced two classes at Governor's School/Humanities in Martin over the summer. (bad Xan, shameless boasting is evil.)

        However the problem is indeed that the poorer schools both urban and rural are the ones that need the help. Our school--total population pK-12 less than 300--has zero AP/IB classes, no driver's ed, no math beyond Algebra II/trig/geometry, and only 2 semesters of (one) foreign language available. This does not look all that great on one's college aps.

        If they have some money to spare it would be nice to see some of it shoveled into improving these items. Or at very least forcing some consolidation....because I value my life and property I do not mention this aloud around here, meaning it will have to be forced by some outside influence.

        Where are we going, and why am I in this handbasket?

        by Xan on Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 08:31:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  The biggest problem is (4+ / 0-)

    the legislature cutting the state's share of higher education, forcing increases onto the backs of students. We've had double-digit tuition increases for the past few years, and they've hit community college students very hard. Fewer non-traditionals can attend because they have families to take care of -- food, insurance, and mortgage payments have to come first.

    The lottery helps those attending college directly from high school, but about half can't hang onto those scholarships because they're underprepared. Adult students, who are often the most motivated and have a much better chance of succeeding, aren't eligible. The legislature again had it upside down in assuming recent high school graduates were the better risk.

    Here's more background on the situation here, from The Tennessean.

  •  It's an effort. (0+ / 0-)

    A start, maybe if tweaked a bit will work fine.

  •  "preparing students for college" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Xan

    That's what the article points out they fail to do well.

    There is all this talk about improving higher education and/or access to it, but little talk about the real problem with US education: high schools that are an international laughing stock. Our colleges have to teach what Japanese students get in high school. Luckily for us the Japanese are sleeping through college.

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