U to assist more high schoolers for college

The U will compete for perspective students as their numbers decline.

Adam Daniels

After peaking at more than 64,000 students in 2009, the number of Minnesota high school graduates is projected to decline by 10 percent by 2015.
While dropouts certainly contribute to this, a shift in demographics is also to blame. By 2020, a larger part of the population will be over the age of 65 than those at the typical college student ages of 18 to 24.
This has prompted the University of Minnesota to take action, not only in recruitment but also in preparing the students Minnesota has.
âÄúItâÄôs a race âĦ The race already exists, and the race is going to intensify,âÄù Kent Pekel, director of the University College Readiness Consortium, said. âÄúBecause the race is to attract the students who âĦ are really well prepared to learn âĦ So thereâÄôs a real sense of urgency.âÄù
University President Bob Bruininks created the College Readiness Consortium in 2006. The consortium has four initiatives, including engaging the University, the Minnesota Principals Academy, state policies and practices and Ramp-Up to Readiness.
A total of $140,000 was awarded to six Minnesota public middle and secondary schools all around the state and one public school district for serving as pilots for Ramp-Up to Readiness.
Students who started high school in the program are currently juniors.
âÄúThe measures that should suggest kids progressing towards college âÄî the credits, the GPAs âÄî look good, but until you really see the student graduate from high school âĦ you donâÄôt really know.
âÄúWhat weâÄôre doing is very different from âĦ what you might have seen 10 or 15 years ago, which really was kind of a dropout prevention strategy, which is like, âÄòGo. Go out, and chase âÄôem down, rope âÄôem in back to their high school,âÄô âÄù Pekel said.
The program doesnâÄôt exclusively focus on recruiting but rather seeks to prepare all Minnesota students for postsecondary education, no matter where they attend.
In spite of obstacles, the University is not currently struggling to find qualified applicants. Since 2004, students from the top 10 percent of high school classes have gone from making up 31 percent to 43 percent of University freshman classes. The average high school rank is now 79 âÄî from 85 âÄî and ACT scores have improved from an average of 25 to 26.
âÄúRight now âÄî for the most part âÄî I donâÄôt think the UniversityâÄôs primary issue is filling âĦ enrollment,âÄù Wayne Sigler, director of campus and college level admissions, said. âÄúA strong student that enrolls here has many, many options âĦ We cannot and do not take their interest for granted.
âÄúThe mix [of students] is going to change dramaticallyâĦ [StudentâÄôs] academic profile is going to shift a lot. So itâÄôs trying to get ahead of the curve.âÄù
Minority students will make up a growing proportion of the public high school student body. Currently, minority students are 20 percent of the metro area public high school population.
Minority students, especially Latinos and blacks, will make up about 20 percent of the stateâÄôs high school graduates in 2015.
âÄúRace is only one way of measuring this,âÄù Pekel said, pointing to income and language as other fundamental differences students present.
Once the class of 2012 in the pilot schools graduates so that the consortium can examine what works and what doesnâÄôt from the pilot schools, it will look to launch more programs in Minnesota schools.
Pekel said this is all part of âÄúbasic survival [for] the University âĦ Could the University ignore this for a while? Probably. I think it would be irresponsible âĦ It would also be a stupid thing to do.âÄù