Thursday, February 08, 2007

On Exit Exams at Texas Colleges and Universities: Perry’s Plan

What seems to be going out of style in Texas public schools may become de rigeur in the Texas state-supported college and university system. Yesterday it was officially announced that Governor Rick Perry will be supporting a new initiative to require exit exams at the college level – a TAKS test writ large, if you will, because this comes at the end of a pretty pricey education.

This is a billion dollar plus initiative because not only does it provide cash incentives for universities whose students perform well on the exit exams, something to the tune of $2,200 for each university graduate and $1,200 for each community college / transfer graduate, but it also forgives student loans of students who complete their studies in 4 years with at least a B average.

Passing the test in order to graduate would not be required – ah, there’s how they can do it while paying through the nose for their education – but their schools get rewarded for their students’ achievement on a standardized test.

“Wait”, a student will say, “what’s in it for me if I don’t have to pass in order to graduate?”

Well they thought of that. Under this plan, students who have student loans, and graduate in 4 years with a B average will have their student loans forgiven. It’s called the B-On-Time loan program.

Gee, that sounds grand.

But uh-uh, no way, no how.

Here’s the reality. Let’s say Student A is an engineering major and needs Engineering 402B in her senior year in order to fulfill requirements of her major so she can graduate. Oops, maybe 402B is only offered in the Spring semester of evenly numbered years. Or maybe the professor that teaches it is on sabbatical. Or maybe the professor that teaches Engineering 386 is undergoing chemotherapy and is being replaced by the one who normally teaches 402B. THIS HAPPENS (believe me I know). Students who don’t graduate in 4 years don’t fail to do this because they are slackers; the school’s or the department’s course scheduling machine simply does not allow it.

Either that or the class keeps filling up too quickly and the wait lists are long and hopeless.

So if the governor is going to propose this incentive plan, there needs to be a complete reorganization of university scheduling plans to ensure that each and every student has the same opportunity to qualify for this massive benefit.

Otherwise the lawyers are going to feast on this one.

Other avenues are being explored. It seems that the program is already under testing at the UT campuses.

Each year since 2001, the UT system has paid for 100 freshman students and 100 senior students at each of the nine campuses to take a non-multiple choice test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment test. Recruiting students to take the test is not hard as they are enticed with cash bounties, iPods, and a $1000 scholarship to the highest performer.

Now that’s the ticket. This is the most tested generation in the history of the world – in terms of standardized testing, that is. Now all of a sudden they get paid to take a test?


Maybe that’s all it will take. No empty promises to forgive a loan, promises that can never be fulfilled because the system doesn’t allow for it. Just give them an iPod, or maybe even the latest Motorola camera phone – heck, let them chose which one they want.

But I bet that the gov really wants this B-On-Time program to go. Students who graduate in 4 years simply need to pass this exit test. One last hurdle. Think of the possibilities. All of these tutoring firms that now specialize in prepping high school students in SAT, SAT II and ACT tests can now expand to higher education where the stakes are truly high. Getting a $20,000 state loan forgiven by laying out a mere $2,000 bucks to a private firm to take a course in how to take the state-mandated college exit exam. Now that’s what I call the American way.

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