COLUMBUS - As higher education officials warn about students' poor preparation for college, Gov. Bob Taft wants to make sure high school diplomas really mean something.
Early next year, Taft will propose ways to improve students' skills as they leave high school and head to college and the work force.
The governor isn't releasing details of his plan but says it will mirror recommendations before a committee of teachers, professors, business people and lawmakers he convened this fall to focus on producing better prepared students.
“The most important issue continues to be education, both for opportunity and also for our business climate,” Taft said in an interview.
“Because today we compete with the world on the basis of the talents and skills of our workers more than any other single factor,” he said.
Taft said he'll announce specifics in the State of the State speech scheduled for late January or early February.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Board of Regents reported that 41 percent of the state's high school graduates enrolled in public universities in Ohio in fall 2003 took at least one remedial math or English class their first year.
That was an increase from 38 percent in 2000. The report also found that only 15 percent of students taking the most complete set of classes needed extra help, compared to 35 percent of students who took just the bare minimum.
Concern over those figures has state school superintendent Susan Tave Zelman and Regents chancellor Rod Chu talking to Taft about how to improve students' academic preparation.
Taft has told the committee to figure out how to better line up high school graduation requirements with what students need to succeed in college and at work.
Businesses worry these students may not be able to compete in today's computer-heavy workplace of constant e-mails, voice mails and other technology.
“We do not have them ready to take on responsible positions within the community as far as being able to take a job on and be able to provide for their families,” said Tom Humphries, president of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
Taft's effort got a boost in November when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave Ohio $2.75 million to improve the link between high school and college classes.
The state will use that money to hire consultants, buy curriculum and host meetings of teachers and other educators.
Taft says the grant will help Ohio with its goal of reducing the need for extra help in college while increasing college enrollment by 30 percent by 2015.
Too many Ohio students are still dropping out of high school or aren't prepared to succeed in college or in jobs, putting the state at risk as the economy goes increasingly global, said J.C. Benton, Department of Education spokesman.
The state's graduation rate last year was 86 percent.