UA low rankings caused by state failure

By Laura Keslar
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 14, 2004

While it cannot blame the Bush administration or Western patriarchy, the UA can point its finger at the state of Arizona for its failure to do its part in helping the UA rise above its mediocre rankings in national collegiate listings.

This failure on the part of the state is not due to the budget cuts or the fact that the Arizona Constitution does not allow state-funded institutions to own stocks in private companies, and thus not providing the university enough funds to compete nationally. Rather, the state has failed to cultivate a crop of students who are ready for the rigors of college life by not providing an adequate secondary education.

Rigors of college life, eh? Yes, I know that unless you were my roommate last year, most of us do not spend our Saturday nights studying about the spin of nuclei. But college is not like high school; unlike your choice of secondary education, the university actually puts you on probation if your grade-point average is inversely related to the number of beers you downed last Thursday.

So, it becomes imperative that the university only accepts students who have shown that they have potential to succeed at this new level. One way the university knows that a student is ready for college is the score they receive on their SAT. And, if the recent compilation of SAT results means anything, your average Arizona student is one smart cookie, considering that he or she scored above the national mean, though by only a few points. Obviously, these scores must indicate that college-bound high schoolers are, well, ready for college. Right?

Not really. What the scores actually seem to indicate is a statewide failure to ascribe accurate grades to students; in other words, Arizona high schools inflate students' grades.

Assuming that C's are assigned for average grades, you would think that students receiving mediocre scores on the SAT would be assigned C's in high school. However, the results show that even students who are earning above-average grades (in other words, B's) attain, on average, scores below the state mean.

This secondary-education grade inflation and, consequently, inadequate education becomes an even more acute problem for the UA as it tries to reach out to Arizona residents and, in particular, Hispanic students by becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Currently, the Hispanic student population at the UA is 13.3 percent. In order to qualify as an HSI, a fourth of the student population must be Hispanic, one half of which must come from low-income homes.

However, Hispanic students have been shown a distinctive disfavor at the high school level, judging by an 11-point drop in the group's average and below-average SAT scores. If these students are coming to the university unready, there is not much that the university can do to keep them in school.

UA proposals to teach Hispanic-centric math and to make the campus a much more welcoming environment by the renaming of the Economics building are well-intended. But, if the UA wants to retain high numbers of Hispanic students, it needs to increase their readiness for college. And, as Arizona has it set up, that job belongs to the state in the form of honest grading and a good high school education.

If the UA wants to do better nationally, its efforts will only go so far. Sure, making admissions a bit more competitive is a step forward, but unless Arizona prepares its high school students for college-level courses, the UA and other state universities will continue to suffer from low retention rates.

Therefore, if the state is as adamant about improving the educational quality of Arizona as Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Legislature seems to be, it would behoove them to institute some changes. And by changes I don't mean more testing or an all-day kindergarten; after all, more testing without accountability only means more bubbles for students to fill in come October, and the benefits of all-day kindergarten are debatable. So, unless students can get a degree in Scantron Bubble-Filling, more tests la AIMS will not raise our rankings by one iota.

While the UA can do some restriction based upon SAT scores (currently, it accepts anything that breathes), it can only do so much as it tries to better serve the state population. The UA isn't Rumpelstiltskin; when given straw to work with, don't expect gold in return.

Laura Keslar is a pre-pharmacy junior. She can be reached at