Some high school graduates, despite the best efforts of their teachers, have trouble adjusting to college studies. At the University of Wyoming, about one-quarter of the freshmen are placed on academic probation by the end of their first semester.
The Hathaway Scholarship Program has helped many students attend community colleges or UW who otherwise may not have been able to afford higher education. But last year about 30 percent of Hathaway Scholarship recipients lost their scholarships during the first year.
Combine those statistics with the fact that more than 25 percent of Wyoming ninth-graders fail to graduate with their class four years later, and it's easy to see that far too many students in our schools are either giving up or having trouble academically making it to the next educational level. While the Wyoming Department of Education is admirably focusing on ways to decrease the state's dropout rate, it also needs to find ways to better prepare students for their future.
The Wyoming School - University Partnership at UW is trying to ease the transition to the next step for students in middle school, high school, community colleges and the university. It's a logical way to get students, faculty and the administration to focus on what skills students need to be successful as they move up the education ladder.
"It seems like such a no-brainer to talk to each other," explained Audrey Kleinsasser, the partnership's director. "American education has done such a good job separating us. It shouldn't be as hard as it is, but it takes effort."
Staff members from the partnership recently traveled to Carbon County School District 2 to observe and talk to Saratoga High School students and teachers. It was a good choice to visit, because there is often trepidation for students in smaller schools who move to a larger campus, where there may be more students in one class than were in their entire high school.
As senior Shay Neville told Jackie Borchardt, the Star-Tribune's education reporter, "It's cool to be friends with everybody, but it doesn't prepare me to leave Saratoga."
The partnership works as a two-way street. In addition to talking to students about the differences they will see at the university or one of the state's community colleges, UW officials are able to get a better understanding of the obstacles that may be partially responsible for the problems students may later encounter, including differences in available technology.
By talking and sharing experiences, UW faculty and high school teachers may be able to find better ways to motivate students. And by also including middle schools, the partnership is getting younger students to start thinking earlier about their educational and career paths.
Saratoga students told Borchardt that they wouldn't benefit from a curriculum that forced them to take harder, more academic courses in their senior year, which is understandable -- mindful of their grade point averages, some students prefer taking classes that don't challenge them. But the local school districts that design curricula should keep an eye on how their past students are faring at UW. If many of them are being placed on academic probation, it's probably time to make some changes in their preparation.
The Wyoming School - University Partnership is an interesting program that likely deserves to be expanded to reach more students in different areas, if additional funds become available.