Why should you need a high school diploma to go to college in California?
In 2020 and 2021, public schools across the state let their students down, closing K-12 campuses for more than a year and offering inconsistent and ineffective online classes. Since then, education officials have often failed to recognize, and done too little to make up for, all the learning loss — which is why eighth graders in California are now doing fifth-grade math. year.
And with public schools just trying to survive chronic absenteeism, teacher resignations, political controversy, and historic declining enrollment (270,000 children statewide since March 2020), there is unlikely to restore the system and its standards anytime soon.
Rather than face up to this historic academic failure, the state of California has sought to cover it up – eliminating testing, turning Ds and Fs into passing grades, and reducing graduation requirements, which were already among the skinniest in the country (we only require two years of math).
Add it all up (if you have the math skills), and California high school diplomas don’t mean much.
This is why our state university systems should stop requiring them for admission.
You read correctly. The University of California and California State University systems should immediately drop their admission requirement that students graduate from high school, at least for the rest of this decade.
Anyone who attended school in California during the pandemic and wants a place in one of these systems should get one, regardless of their high school diploma.
The idea may sound crazy but it is not new. You can already attend community colleges in California without a degree or GED. And some elite colleges, including Harvard, will admit students without a high school diploma.
But California’s public four-year universities still require a high school diploma, maintaining a status quo that didn’t work very well before the pandemic.
Now, unfortunately, UC and CSU are putting more emphasis than ever on grades and student work at failing high schools across the state. CSU plans to add a required quantitative course and raise its standards to 16 required high school courses, while 11 of the 13 factors UC considers when considering applications relate entirely to high school performance .
The University of California and California State University systems should immediately drop their admission requirement that students graduate from high school, at least for the rest of this decade.
And they don’t apologize. Indeed, these institutions brag about their new high school admissions policies as part of California’s self-righteous rush to eliminate standardized testing in education.
The UC and CSU systems, by getting rid of the SAT and ACT, and the state, by eliminating the high school leaving exam, have claimed to promote inclusion because standardized test scores are often biased by race and class. But this abandonment of testing has a dark side. That means high schools — the same high schools that lost track of as many in 10 kids who dropped off their rolls — become even more important.
You don’t have to be cynical to see the cynicism of this non-testing, high school-centric approach. By eliminating tests that might show poor school and student performance, the education system avoids accountability, protects itself, and shifts the costs of its failures onto pandemic-era students.
Worse still, all of this is justified by a supposed commitment to equity and by education officials who have denied the full reality of the current crisis.
So what is this reality? Part of the education scandal in the age of the pandemic is that schools and the state have made this question impossible to answer. The educational institution, which has struggled to build a robust and efficient student data system, has not kept a close enough eye on students to provide a complete and accurate picture.
But one almost certain truth is that the most vulnerable students — homeless students, students with disabilities, and students who are children of immigrants, or of color, or from poorer backgrounds — have been most likely to been left behind for the past two years. . So if fairness means anything in California education, these students deserve the right to enter a public university, regardless of their high school achievement.
It will be difficult to give these students a real chance to stay in our universities. This will require new ways to assess high school dropouts to see if they would fit better into UC or CSU. It will take more types of support, more guidance and more resources to keep them there. (CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which has been successful in keeping students in college, offers the beginnings of such a model.)
It may also require the federal government to step in and exempt California from requirements that tie federal financial aid to high school graduation. And it will force the state to shift its budget priorities, foregoing one-time giveaways like gas tax refunds and embracing the kind of longer-term educational investments that are difficult in our complicated budget system.
But if more students whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic can go to college and complete their education, they won’t be the only winners. Colleges, which are experiencing declining enrollment during the pandemic, will see more students. And California as a whole will be better for it.
Indeed, decoupling earning a high school diploma from attending college may turn out to be more than a short-term experience. California has produced far fewer college graduates than its economy requires. If California wanted to be more ambitious, it could combine a “no high school diploma, no problem” policy with a broader program to help the millions of adults who dropped out of college come back and get their diplomas.
This approach is what true equity would look like, especially for young Californians who our education system has left behind.