Despite Some Naysayers,
Increasing Our Graduation Rate Is Cause for Celebration

September 30, 2011

One thing I'm proudest of in my tenure as Superintendent of Public Instruction is our increasing high school graduation rate. Many hardworking people deserve the credit for this – especially our students. I'm confident that we are going to see that rate continue to rise, even though as a state we are making our graduation requirements more rigorous.

That's why I was surprised to read a recent think-tank report that attempts to link an increase in high school graduation rates with an increase in remediation rates at North Carolina's Community Colleges. The report states that marginal students are receiving an easier path to graduation and all but suggests that our high schools are pushing more students out the door just to raise the graduation rate.

But while it's true that more students are taking remedial classes in the community colleges, it doesn't necessarily follow that current high school graduates are less prepared. That's because the report, while focusing on a sizable minority, leaves out the majority of high school graduates. The largest number of North Carolina's high school graduates – almost half – enrolls in a four-year institution, where the rates of remediation are much lower. Add to that number the graduates who enter the military or the job market and you account for the majority of North Carolina's high school graduates.

We can all speculate about why more community college students need remediation, but I don't believe it's due to relaxed graduation standards. More likely, it has to do with the state of the economy and the sheer numbers of graduates who are seeking to enhance their job prospects by pursuing additional skills and training in our state's community colleges.

Our community colleges have an open door admissions policy, meaning they take all comers. It stands to reason that in an economy facing 10 percent-plus joblessness and requiring more technically skilled employees, our community colleges would enroll more students who in the past may have taken their high school diploma straight to the workforce.

We welcome further research into remediation of post-secondary students and the reasons behind any increase. But one thing to keep in mind is that while we would all like to see the need for remediation in post-secondary education reduced, nothing has been implemented in our state's curriculum that makes it easier for students to graduate. In fact, it's getting more difficult.




June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent