Barton, P. E. (2002). The closing of the education frontier? Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from: http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/ PICFRONTIER.pdf
The author makes an implicit analogy with a theory that early America was defined by the opportunity presented by Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis of the 'opening of the American west'. The Turner thesis was, "Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development". Accordingly, America changed when the West was closed and opportunity ended in 1893. Using this concept as a counterpoint, Barton questions whether the frontier of educational opportunity has already closed, and thereby changing American culture. He argues that there is empirical evidence that postsecondary educational opportunity has closed, and therefore changing the nature of American society. Barton's data challenges the conventional wisdom that educational attainment has continued to increase during the last quarter century. He paints a picture of an educational system that is not producing more high school graduates, that continues to display great social inequality, and that is not able to support greater proportions of students through to degree in four-year college programs.
I was visiting with a colleague yesterday in a larger community college in the Twin-Cities area. She remakred how high-level college administrators were voicing the desire to apply admissions criteria to "weed out" students deemed unlikely to be successful at college. These officials often relish the limelight brought when media report on their technical and health-science programs, but are frustrated with devoting larger amounts of funds to support growning numbers of students who need developmental-level courses, especially in mathematics.
It is easy to say that students with severe preparation issues attend community Adult Basic Education or General Education Degree programs. However, the barriers are enormous. How is the issue of stigma going to be overcome by telling students who aspire to college to attend programs designed for apiring high school graduates? How do these community-based programs absorb the enormous numbers of new students when their funding is inadequate for their current clients?
A solution could be to place these ABE and GED programs within local college learning centers with a significant increase in funding. That would help some with the stigma issue, but much more needs to be done with providing seamless academic enrichment and support for students. While the national debate decries the lack of adequately-trained college graduates, we seem to erect new barriers for their success each day.