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What the ACT Mandate Means for Your Student

This spring Nebraska becomes the 16th state to mandate that all juniors take the ACT college admissions diagnostic test. All of our 11th graders now take a test that can actually help them– and us as parents. Higher ACT scores trigger better scholarships and better college options.  Jumping that ACT score should be the best paying job your high school student ever has. An increase of just a point or two can generate thousands more in scholarship dollars and dramatically decrease the need for large student loans (We discourage any college student from borrowing more than $5k a year.).

Still, one superintendent recently told me that the ACT means no more than the old NESA tests for juniors headed to community college.  Such ACT apathy would evaporate if juniors just knew that a solid ACT typically waives a student out of all remedial classes.  “When looking at only community college students, several studies have found remediation rates surpassing 50% (Yikes!). Less than 25% of these remedial students at community colleges earn a certificate or degree within eight years.” (http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/improving-college-completion-reforming-remedial.aspx).  So mandating the ACT is one way to precipitously decrease remedial class enrollment in our two- and four-year colleges– pretty strong motivation to try hard and do well.

Parents of two- and four-year college bound students should learn how to avoid remedial classes, including how preparing for and taking an ACT can accomplish that critical goal. Reducing the number of remedial classes your student takes will save your family significant money and increase the likelihood of graduation. Who can argue with that outcome? A surprising ACT score might also persuade more students to consider 4-year colleges.

Plus this mandated April ACT provides one free ACT for all students and a third free ACT for low-income students, enough to ensure each student scores her highest. The $42.50 cost of taking an ACT is no longer a real barrier for our lower-income students.  

But what will make this policy truly worthwhile is if it triggers a statewide effort to create more two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt.  Right now 44% of Nebraska’s adults have a two- or four-year college degree. Imagine the transformative effect statewide if we increase that number to 54%, 64% or 74%, arming more of our millennials with the skills and knowledge necessary today to compete with inexpensive foreign labor and the rise of automation.  Mandating the ACT can help accomplish that goal.

And yes Nebraska’s 21.4 average ACT score (with 89% taking the test) will fall almost a full point with 100% taking the test, but the benefits are clear. More students should care about this test once they understand how much more meaningful it is to them than any previous standardized test they’ve taken. And motivated students create better data for educators to use and better results for families to leverage.  Just be sure to turn that ACT score into your child’s best-fit college at the right price, and urge your school to embrace the same expectation for all students. `And if you have a junior, make sure he or she follows up this free ACT by taking it again in June– and twice during fall of senior year. Let’s create more two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of John Baylor Prep. The mission of JBP is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the John Baylor Prep Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to johnbaylorprepshow.com. The show also runs on Nebraska stations KHUB (1340 AM) in Fremont, KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM) in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.

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