HD21 - High School Graduation Requirements and Admission Standards at the Commonwealth's Colleges and Universities

Executive Summary:
HJR470 requested the study of high school graduation requirements, higher education admissions standards, and the award of credit for curriculum and measurable competencies learned in a variety of ways such as through interdisciplinary programs, equivalency courses, and the academic components of vocational and technical classes. Data were collected from high schools and senior colleges and universities in Virginia and from State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO).

Secondary school reforms have reached all regions of the Commonwealth. Site-based management has made school reform an individualized matter thereby introducing many variations in the restructured programs, courses, and schedules and in the processes to implement them. As students complete programs of study, their transcripts reflect these revisions.

Data were collected about the following high school practices and programs: block scheduling, advanced placement and college-level courses, Tech Prep programs, distance learning, dual enrollment, work-based programs, International Baccalaureate, schools within schools, correspondence courses, independent study courses, and applied instruction. Respondent data cannot be reduced to a single description because of the many variations in practices and programs that have been implemented. Appendices D, E, and F contain matrices with complete survey findings.

Senior colleges and universities were asked about higher education processes for granting academic credit for new instructional initiatives for college admissions purposes. Educational rigor is the most frequently mentioned criterion used by institutions in making admissions decisions. The two most frequently mentioned methods for handling atypical transcripts were (a) contacts with the high school to clarify transcript information and (b) individualized review. Dual enrollment, block scheduling, and information about different tracks and courses were of most concern to higher education institutions. It was suggested that course descriptions or profiles that explain transcripts would be helpful. Respondents thought that high schools and colleges could best work together through open dialogue/communication and workshops.

The SHEEO survey collected data about experiences, opinions, and insights regarding non-traditional instructional initiatives and methods of awarding credit throughout the United States. Regardless of the configuration of higher education authority, every agency in some manner cited public school restructuring and reforms as the driving force behind the need to revising college admissions practices in their states. Changes in instructional strategies, course offerings, and newly emerging technical and vocational education opportunities have tested the applicability of traditional assessment strategies which measure curricula in terms of Carnegie units.

Many education policy analysts express an overriding fear, however, that responding too quickly to changes at the secondary level and below presents the potential for compromising basic proficiency attainment. Tech Prep was mentioned as one of the initiatives that has influenced higher education institutions to accept applied academics course work as a type of college preparatory curriculum.

Although not a part of this study, High Schools That Work, an innovative school reform movement, is pertinent and is described in Footnote 1 on page 11.


The following recommendations are made based upon the findings of the study:

• High school, community college, and senior college and university staff should involve each other in their respective restructuring efforts. For example, high schools offering nontraditional instruction should assess the learning of those students who complete those courses or programs to ensure they produce results equivalent to or better than traditional instruction. If the restructuring initiatives have been validated, then colleges and universities should review their admissions policies regarding the acceptance of nontraditional instruction for credit.

• High school, community college, and senior college and university staff should communicate frequently, more clearly, and regularly. Different types of communication such as workshops, seminars, and meetings should be considered.

• Along with high-school transcripts, high-school counselors should provide clear information about restructuring efforts affecting students' college admission processes.

• High-school guidance counselors and 2- and 4-year admissions officers should explore the development of a uniform high-school transcript and a common application for admissions to Virginia's public colleges and universities.

We continue to believe that the following recommendations in Part I of House Document No. 11 reported to the General Assembly in 1993 are still valid:

• As many as possible of the various forms of college-credit work should be made available to all high-school students in Virginia.

• Colleges and universities that require a grade higher than 3 on any AP examination should re-examine that requirement.

• Institutions that do not grant college credit for the successful completion of IB course work or the IB diploma should reconsider that policy.

• Virginia's community colleges should re-examine the admissions requirements and faculty credential requirements and evaluation processes in their dual enrollment programs to ensure that they correspond to the VCCS guidelines.

• Two- and four-year institutions offering dual-credit courses to high school students should assess the learning of those students to ensure that it is equivalent to that of matriculated students. Those results should be reported separately in each institution's biennial assessment report. The VCCS should assess the effectiveness of the program system wide. Two- and four-year colleges should cooperate in offering college-credit courses to high-school students when both are interested in doing so in the same area, with the community colleges as the primary but not necessarily the sale provider and overall coordinator of the higher-education effort.