Incoming students less prepared

Oswego State admission standards have increased as the number of applicants has skyrocketed. Despite tougher standards, students are still struggling with basic academic and work-related skills.

The Oswego State applicant pool has increased from 7,565 in 2005 to over 10,000 in 2010. This is allowing the admissions department to be more selective with who is admitted. Oswego State now accepts 47 percent of applicants, down from 56 percent in 2005. The increased selectivity has created higher GPA and SAT averages for admitted students.

"There are more students in the upper tier and less in the lower tier," said Vice President of Students and Affairs Joe Grant.

But this is not necessarily being reflected in test scores: 51 percent of students who took the AccuPlacer exam between April 2010 and February 2011 at Oswego State were recommended to take one of the remedial math courses, MAX 100 or MAX 101, which do not go toward graduation credit and are reviews of basic high school math.

The AccuPlacer exam from College Board is math test for students that are entering majors which require some math, and it tests a student’s ability and knowledge in math. Oswego State establishes cut scores, a series of numbers that determine what math course a student is recommended to take.

Only 45 out of 848 students who took the AccuPlacer exam, qualified to take MAT 210, which is the first course required by hard sciences like math, chemistry and physics. Although some who take the exam are business majors. Of the 848 students, only 110 were placed into both MAT 158 and MAT 179, which are the math courses required for business majors.

The decline of student competency has been recognized by the New York State Department of Education, which released a report on Feb. 7 that stated 41 percent of high school graduates are equipped to enter the workforce or college. The state determined that if a high school graduate scored lower than a score of 80 percent on the math regents or lower than a score of 75 percent on the English regents, then they would not qualify.

"There are two separate issues here," said Linda Lefevre, professor in the math department. "One is academic background and the second is, for a lack of a better word, laziness."

The foundation of skills that freshmen can use to adapt to meet the expectations of college demands has been steadily decreasing. This became apparent in grades and in classroom performance.

Lefevre said new social media tools could be a cause of the limited attention span of students.

"We have created a generation that has a short attention span. Educators today are expected to be entertainers," she said. "Students expect everything to happen instantaneously and to be exciting."

This is also a commentary on attitude and how it influences their classroom performance.

"I think that is more of a conception [by freshman], that there is review and if they miss class it effectively stops and they can get extensions," said Maggie Tiballi, a professor in the math department.

Another aspect is the amount of desire students have to be in college. For many, they simply apply and attend as a continuation of high school while their parents pay tuition.

"I find a strike against the students is that college is the next step. It’s automatic, they don’t ask if they are going, but they ask where," Lefevre said. "Non-traditional students who have come back to school have a work ethic that far surpasses traditional students because they have direction."

Students also tend to overestimate their own abilities, because they were able to go through high school with little work and still achieve good grades. They feel they can learn everything easily without much prior work and effort.

"They think if they read in 10 minutes before lab, they will understand everything," said Damaris Rivera-Santos, a chemistry graduate student and teaching assistant. "But that doesn’t work…I may have to explain something several times."

This could be continuation of the high school perception that as long as the students satisfy the minimal requirements, then they will do well, with little recognition that college professors have higher expectations.

Oswego State has also been working on improving learning in high schools with programs such as Project Smart, which has been working with teachers for the last 23 years. Project Smart Co-Director Marcia Burrell said methods of teaching have not changed much over the last hundred years, and that Project Smart works with teachers to think outside of the box, and give them the opportunity to reflect on their teaching and talk to other teachers.

"No Child Left Behind and other legislature only encourage everybody to meet minimums," Burrell said. "Our project interrupts the same old same old in the classroom."

The project collaborated with Entergy, which provides innovative opportunities in elementary schools in the fields of math and science. Entergy and Project Smart helped bring technology like iTouch mp3 players into classrooms to provide more hands-on experiences.

Professor Dan Wood from the music department has been working with middle school students.

"We spend a lot of time with the middle school eighth grade music class on audio production projects," Wood said. "We brought college kids to the middle school, and the middle school students to the college."

Wood said that the learning difference did not just apply to the middle school students, but opened opportunities for college students as well. He said that several of the quieter students found that they loved teaching through this program and look to perhaps pursue it in the future.

As Oswego State students become upperclassmen, they begin to learn what employers are expecting and adapt to these expectations. Gary Morris, director of The Compass, sent out a survey asking companies who hire Oswego State alumni to explain what they find within those graduates.

The Syracuse office of KPMG, which is one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, wrote that "It is always evident that students from SUNY Oswego are not only well prepared academically but they have been given the necessary tools and guidance to prepare them for their job search."

This shows that while another aspect of that report suggests that incoming freshmen do not have the skills necessary to enter the workforce when they enter college, they have the skills once they leave if they have the right attitude.

"Communication is the number one skill that employers are looking for, but it is the number one skill that students are lacking," Morris said.

Oswego State is able to take students and help them to meet the standards of employers that will hire them. The Compass, which helps place students into internships and jobs, offer services to help students improve their interpersonal skills.

"[Oswego State] graduates don’t look at the clock, but look at the job," Morris said. "The greatest thing about coming to Oswego is, one, you are already a pretty good student and, two, there is an army of people who are willing to bend over backward for you."

The campus has resources like The Compass, which provides work related opportunities likes mock interviews and resume critiques, and the Tutoring Center, which provides academic support.

"Everybody here has the basic skill," Grant said. "It’s all about the motivation, and if you are willing to put in the time."

Web Editor Note – This article is corrected from the original print article.