As a sophomore at the University of Indianapolis, Tanner Alexander has made a name for himself.
He is pursuing a degree in communications with an emphasis in electronic media and already anchors the student-produced news program on UIndyTV. Earlier this year, he was awarded second place for a news package from the Indiana Association of School Broadcasters.
But his success hasn’t come without hard work, for which he was prepared by taking a rigorous class schedule at Seymour High School, Alexander said.
A total of 284 out of 486 Class of 2013 graduates in Jackson County (58 percent) enrolled in college, according to the Indiana College Readiness Report recently released by the state Commission for Higher Education.
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The report breaks down who is enrolling in college and how they are performing to give local educators a better idea if they are doing enough to prepare students for postsecondary education.
Of the number of graduates from all five high schools in the county, around 60 students, or 21 percent, of those attending public colleges were reported as needing remediation in math, English or both during their first year of college, the state report indicates.
At Seymour, 142 of 269 graduates (53 percent) enrolled in college from the class of 2013. Of that number, 115 attended a public Indiana college, and 38 students (33 percent) required remediation.
Alexander needed no remedial courses.
By taking Advanced Placement classes in high school, he was held to higher expectations, which gave him a better idea of what college work would be like, he said.
“Academically, I believe SHS did a fine job of preparing me for college-level work,” he said. “They offered plenty of AP classes and college-level courses that required a great deal of work, with little or no flexibility on deadlines.”
Alexander said his AP English class was the most beneficial.
“We were expected to write and turn in an essay nearly every class, and he did not accept late work without penalty,” Alexander said of now-retired teacher Brantley Blythe.
Assistant Principal Kate DuBois said the school offers many opportunities for students to experience coursework at the college level.
“We offer 11 Advanced Placement courses and other accelerated classes that prepare students prior to college,” she said. “We also offer students the opportunity to earn credit with our Early College program taking courses at Ivy Tech (Community College).”
The school plans to continue to increase the number of dual-credit courses it offers.
She said guidance counselors work closely with students on an individual basis to develop graduation and postsecondary plans.
Besides AP classes, DuBois said, students earn certifications in technology, culinary arts, cosmetology and other trades and experience work-based learning in nursing, technology, agriculture, education and other career fields.
“Some of these may not be represented in a college readiness report,” she said.
High school teachers and classes should not be blamed if a student isn’t prepared for college, Alexander added.
“If you want to succeed in college, there has to be a certain level of drive and ambition within yourself that can’t be taught in any classroom,” he said.
He does believe, however, all schools should offer classes that teach life lessons, such as how to achieve a good credit score, apply for jobs and manage a checkbook.
At Crothersville High School, 18 of 28 2013 graduates (64 percent) enrolled in college, and just three of those (21 percent) attending a public college needed remediation.
Principal David Schill said he is pleased by the numbers and believes most students who graduate from the school are fully prepared to enter college.
“All of our students have the chance to earn dual credit in high school, and we are focused on increasing and improving the rigor of the courses we offer,” he said.
Dual-credit classes are those a student can take to earn both high school and college credit. They are offered through an agreement with Ivy Tech.
Crothersville also offers a unique early college initiative that allows students to earn an associate degree while still in high school, which Schill said has been a factor in increasing college-readiness levels of students.
The school also is working on offering more technical classes, he said.
“Being college ready is important so that students can succeed. In today’s world, it is difficult for young folks to make a living without at least some form of postsecondary education,” he said. “All of the hype about teaching standards means little if the kids can pass a test but not be successful at higher education.”
Schill said making sure students are well-prepared to handle college coursework is the most important lesson teachers can teach.
“Success is not just getting a high grade or passing a test but truly learning the subject being studied,” he said.
Some students will have to take remedial classes their freshman year of college because they don’t always take high school seriously or they place too much emphasis on memorization, Schill said.
“College classes ask for more than just names and dates,” he said. “We have attempted to improve our curriculum by including higher-order thinking skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking.”
For many students, the learning curve of attending college can be too steep, he said, and it’s difficult for them to deal with the social and psychological aspects of being away from home and being responsible for their own work and study habits.
Brownstown Central High School guidance counselor Derrick Koch said most graduates, especially those who earn the Academic Honors Diploma, have taken the necessary coursework to prepare themselves for college classes.
According to the college readiness report, 88 of 140 graduates in the Class of 2013 (63 percent) enrolled in college. Of the 69 students who enrolled in public colleges, 16 (23 percent) required remediation their freshman year.
Koch said the school’s percentage of students attempting to graduate with the Academic Honors Diploma has increased during the past several years. A total of 42 Brownstown graduates received the honors diploma in 2013, with 93 percent of those students enrolling in college.
“More and more students see the importance of a college education,” he said.
There also is a clear difference between academic honors classes and general Core 40 classes, he added.
“Our teachers do a great job teaching and challenging our upper level Academic Honors students,” he said. “They know what is expected of our students in college, and the teachers do an outstanding job preparing them for college coursework by making them actually do college-level coursework in the high school classroom.”
Often, students who receive a Core 40 diploma are the ones who have difficulties with college-level English or math and need remediation, Koch said.
“It’s not that they aren’t capable but that it simply takes them more time or it takes more review for them to understand the material,” he said.
Koch said being college ready is more important now because more jobs require it and the state requires it.
At Medora High School, 11 of 18 2013 graduates (61 percent) enrolled in college. Information on how many students required remediation their freshman year was not made public because fewer than 10 students attended public colleges.
Assistant principal and guidance counselor Dan Johnson said the school provides the opportunity to succeed at any level.
“‘College ready’ is a very ambiguous term. When students go to college, a number of factors are involved — social, academic, religious, athletic, and we could add to this list,” he said. “A number of factors beyond what happened in high school algebra affect what someone wants to call ‘college ready.’”
Without knowing exactly what colleges ask on their placement exams, Johnson said Medora teaches Indiana Academic Standards to prepare students for postsecondary education. The school also allows for students to get a jump start on college credits with dual-credit courses in English, math and social studies.
To encourage students to explore college options, the school allows seniors to take four excused days to visit colleges and universities, and it welcomes college admissions departments to set up at the school to talk to students.
“In the past, we had grant money that allowed us to visit college campuses more liberally,” he said. “I would like to do more of that.”
Trinity Lutheran High School had 25 of its 31 graduates of the Class of 2013 (81 percent) enroll in college. A total of 19 students went to public colleges in Indiana. Only three of those students (16 percent) required remediation, according to the state report.
At the state level, more than 75 percent of Indiana high school graduates are prepared for college-level coursework, the report showed.
Statewide, there was an improvement of five percentage points in the number of Hoosier students who entered college directly from high school without needing remedial coursework before earning credits toward a degree.
“College readiness is a key measure predicting student success and degree of affordability,” Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education Teresa Lubbers said. “When students leave our K-12 system college ready, they spend less on costly remedial courses and are more likely to graduate on time.
“Too many students still need remediation when they begin college, but the gains illustrated in our new report show real momentum for continued improvement,” she added.