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D.C. Considers Making Students Take ACT/SAT, Apply to College

A new way to promote college readiness is being floated in the nation's capital: require all high school students to take the ACT or SAT and apply to at least one college or trade school.

That's the latest proposal being discussed in the District of Columbia public school system and introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

"I believe that every child should have the opportunity, even if they don't go, to at least apply to a college," Brown was quoted as he introduced the bill last week. He suggested that some D.C. students aren't going to college simply because they don't understand the enrollment process.

The bill would include training for students in how to apply, but there are no specifics about how to pay for the test fees, which run about $50. Some press reports suggest the Brown staff wants to explore public and private funding options as the bill moves forward.

A growing number of states require high school juniors to take the ACT or SAT, covering the cost—and in some states, such as Delaware, providing SAT preparation courses. There are nine state that have juniors take the ACT: Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Wyoming, Tennessee, North Dakota, and Arkansas. Montana and Utah are currently piloting the ACT statewide.

The SAT is administered free statewide to high school students in Delaware, Idaho, and Maine.

Some districts within states mandate the exam; for instance, the SAT is given in districts in Florida, Connecticut, and Texas, while the ACT is required in many schools in Oregon and other states.

For first-generation, low-income students, it can take more than a mandate to apply to college. High school students often need guidance early to select the right mix of classes so they are college- and-career ready. The application and financial-aid process is also daunting for many. To walk more of these students successfully through the transition to college, experts suggest that more will likely need to be invested in nonprofits that provide mentoring and support. Once these students have accessed college, then there is the issue of retaining them.

It will be interesting to see where D.C.'s proposal goes. It has its skeptics. For it to meaningfully propel students into college, the city might benefit from partnering with community groups, businesses, and others to support students in the process—not to mention working on help with financing, which is one of the biggest barriers to postsecondary education.

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