Are ‘Gen P’ students prepared for college? Are colleges prepared for them?

Students who started high school in the fall of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, are now applying to U.S. colleges and universities across the country. Experts are questioning whether higher education institutions will be prepared to assess and meet the needs of “Gen P”—students who experienced that educational disruption and are now contending with its lingering effects, including learning loss and erosion of social skills, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Difficulties assessing readiness

Assessing students’ college preparedness and social readiness is a necessary part of setting students up for success both inside and beyond the classroom. However, higher education leaders say they are facing a “perfect storm” that has left them struggling to identify which students need additional support as they enter college.

Standardized test scores and GPAs, long considered primary indicators of applicants’ preparedness for college academics, are increasingly painting a murky picture. Average SAT scores dropped from 1050 out of 1600 for the class of 2022 to 1028 for the class of 2023, according to the College Board. The national average composite ACT score for the class of 2023 was 19.5 out of 36, the lowest average in 30 years and the sixth consecutive year it has declined, Inside Higher Ed reports. Plus, overall submission of test scores has decreased since many colleges and universities went test-optional during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the average GPA for high school students rose between 2010 and 2022, with evidence of grade inflation appearing in math, science, English, and social science courses, according to an August 2023 ACT report. Math courses recorded the highest grade point change across all subjects, with average adjusted math GPA rising from 3.02 in 2010 to 3.32 in 2022. The increases in GPAs in all core academic courses has not corresponded with other assessments of content mastery, ACT officials say.

“The current tools are not going to have the same accuracy they once did to tell you, ‘Yes, this student is ready,’” Natasha Jankowski, the former executive director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, tells Inside Higher Ed.

“The pandemic has broken a lot of our indicators…particularly in the realm of student success, and it could lead to an expansion of the equity gap in terms of attainment if nothing is done,” Ed Venit, managing director of the education consulting firm EAB, adds. “Students are going to be coming into college with Swiss-cheese-style holes in learning that need to be filled.”

Getting a better read on students’ readiness

In a June 2023 ACT survey, students reported that disruptions to their education during the pandemic made them doubtful about their readiness for college. Results from a 2023 EAB survey reinforce this finding: among students who were not planning to attend college, 22% said they were “not mentally ready,” an increase from 14% in 2019 and 2021.

Younger members of Gen P, who are now in elementary, middle, and high school, will face similar academic vulnerabilities as they head to college, making it imperative for education leaders to better understand which students need additional support, experts tell Inside Higher Ed. To help improve assessment, some colleges are focusing on additional methods of gauging applicants’ academic performance aside from GPAs or standardized test scores, including Advanced Placement scores, demonstrations of applicants’ creative output, and classwork that best represents applicants’ academic interest. 

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