I have worried over this for a week now, thinking of different ways to put all my random thoughts together. How do I articulate this answer from my perspective as a student, professor, college graduate, homeschooler, and wife of a high school drop out? Whew. That was a mouthful.
From my view point as a professor of English and Literature at our local community college my perspective is that many, many students are not college ready. That means two things to me, not one. First, many can barely read and write coherently or with comprehension (but they rock the myspace hard core while I am lecturing); to me those two things are life skills not just needed for college, but that can be taught or caught up in a semester or two. Second, they are not ready in terms of critical thinking or motivation. Ask them what they want to do or be and the answer is, "Dunno." Those students are typically are studying "liberal arts" until they figure it out. They should find something else to do (perhaps get a job?) instead of wasting classroom space, in my opinion. I don't like playing babysitter to unmotivated children who are biding their time on mommy's or daddy's or the state's (ie, my taxpayer $$) money, not when there are waiting lists of students who do know what they want. These unfortunate students cannot even choose a topic for a free writing essay. They stop their research at wikipedia and just cut and paste (yeah, plagiarism), some come to class high and/or drunk if they show up at all after midterms, and they annoy the crap out me. I wish they were college ready. Try as I might, I cannot rescue them from the muck that is "Dunno".
From my view point as a college grad myself: I was not prepared for college by public school, though I was an honor student with good grades. I simply wasted my time there. Then I worked a minimum wage job for a year and continued working there even after I enrolled in college classes. I worked hard to bring myself up to the skill level of the academics who were my professors, because I decided I wanted to. I saw them as future peers and I negotiated my education as such. The difference there was that I found joy in the classes I chose, mostly poetry and history classes, knowing full well that these alone would not make me employable. College was a very expensive tool for self development. Often I would over enroll so I could drop a class that wasn't a good fit for me. I self advocated, I asked questions. I never expected anyone else to do it for me and I cared.
Then I went to graduate school. The same motivation led me there: a love of a topic. I used the resources at the University to further my knowledge in a topic I had become passionate about, I wrote my thesis on said topic. Again, a tool for me to use to grow as a student. It did not make me employable, except as a professor. I teach English and have a degree in History/Architectural Preservation/Creative Writing (a degree created by a new program and tailored to the student's interests, how cool is that!). I now teach online classes part time and stay at home and homeschool my daughters.
As a mother, a homeschooling mother, people expect me to have college as a goal for my children. That's the tricky part. If I say no, am I devaluing my own education and experience, especially since I am not working in the discipline I trained for? But I'd be lying if I said yes. College should not be the end goal, or even a middle goal. It should be a tool available, just as it was for me. Many, many directions in life do not require college. Some require additional training or studies, but those are often intense and discipline specific. I want my kiddos to find joy and follow their passions, I would hope they know themselves well enough to not ever answer some random person, "Dunno" when asked what they want to be when they grow up. Right now my oldest wants to be a Warrior Princess Pirate Kung Fu Master Chicken Farmer Super Hero Who Saves the Day, she may or may not need college algebra to achieve that goal- in fact she says she just needs another Popsicle and a better hat. As of right now, she won't need a student loan to acquire those resources.
So many students and friends of mine have experienced another pitfall of this goal mindset. College was THE goal they worked for, completed, and then expected to find a really good job, for employers to see them as "better" than. The reality is that they, like others with less education start at the entry level jobs like everyone else. They may get to move up faster, but that takes time. Some of them have debt to pay off, a lot of debt, and start of worse financially than their non-college educated peers, even if those peers make less salary/wage.
The other side of the coin is this: my Dearest Husband was a high school drop out. He doesn't regret it. He's taken some college classes recently, but mostly classes for certifications in the IT field. Motivated by his career path and interests. He's way more employable than I am. But, there has come a point in his career that he is close to the glass ceiling, the point where he has been told, "Sorry, no, you need a degree for this job." It makes him more vulnerable to lay offs and less marketable outside the company. That's unfortunate. The classes he needs to complete his AA are completely unrelated to IT "core" classes, a waste of time and brain power, time away from his family. He's not the only one in this position, just lucky that he's made it as far as he has on his abilities so far.
I'm not sure I've answered the question asked, but I don't like the wording of it. College as a goal sounds like that's the end of the road and that sentiment is misleading to people. Many people who complete college and expect the world to be handed to them after, or at least a job better than they could get before the equivalent of four years and as much student loan debt/tuition paid. Sadly, many (dare I say most) would have been better off working instead. The term "college ready" doesn't mean to those politicians what it means to me. Who are they to determine that when so many students coming out of their institutions can barely think for themselves, but they can text their buddies and have proficient thumbs and maybe know the names of the Jonas Brothers. Maybe.
Here in Iowa a few families got together and sued the IDE because their college freshmen children were not actually college ready. ?? 1) I wonder how exactly these kids lived that freshman year that they blew, I doubt they worked full time, slept normal hours, and studied hard and 2) Are they channelling Rasputin? How on earth did they convince their parents that it was not in fact their own fault and do so in a way that led them to the lawyers? Gah.
Maybe the terminology is wrong for us as a society. Why do we value the four (five) year University of liberal arts education over vocational and site specific training? Why are we focusing our time and resources arguing that specific place and experience is the goal? Why does it have value over other experiences?
Maybe the goal should be redefined: the goal is to raise your children and yourself to be civilized and capable. Put a value on kindness too. Stop shifting the blame when that goal isn't met.