How does North Carolina stack up in New America’s new tool for comparing state college-ready policies?

New America is out with a new “data visualization platform” called Atlas. It provides a map of “college-ready” policies around the country, outlining seven criteria to compare states. The criteria are:

  1. Do states have official definitions of college- and career-readiness?
  2. What standards, if any, are states using (such as Common Core)?
  3. What assessments are they using (such as the SAT and the ACT)?
  4. Are high school course requirements aligned with minimum course requirements for college admission?
  5. Do states or higher ed systems have minimum admission standards that are aligned with high school requirements?
  6. Are merit requirements for merit- and need-based aid aligned with high school requirements?
  7. Are course placement policies aligned with high school assessment?

The findings for North Carolina are, in order: no; Common Core; the ACT (and other state assessments); no; partially; n/a (no merit-based aid); and no.

Some of this is worth worrying about; one that worries me, and that I have noticed in community college state board discussions about readiness, is that the state has embarked on a mission to make students ready for life after high school, but doesn’t define what that means. It may be easier to justify keeping a program alive with vague goals, but it isn’t good for taxpayers.

Numbers four through seven are focused much more on college-readiness than career-readiness, which is fine, but Atlas sends a mixed message about that. It’s almost as if it wants to measure only college-readiness but begrudgingly acknowledges that not everyone goes to college. The way I see it, the purpose of high school, from the state’s perspective, should not be to prepare students for college. The reason we have public high schools, rather, is to ensure citizens of the state attain a basic level of education by the time they reach adulthood. Most people still don’t get college degrees, and that’s okay.

While I don’t worry as much about some of these questions as New America does, Atlas is, at least, a useful tool for those who do worry that high schools aren’t preparing everyone for college. Go here to play around with it.

Harry Painter

Harry Painter writes for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.