College for All?
Throughout the 20th century, high school graduation statistics steadily improved, reaching a high of approximately 70% in the 1960’s. Now, lawmakers and schools promote a goal of 100% graduation from high school and a college education for all. Meanwhile, respected business leaders have argued that innovation and success in America no longer depends on a college education. We asked Parents United’s statewide Advisory about this notion of 100% graduation and “college” preparedness. This is a brief summary of what we heard.
In your community, how is the message “college for everyone” expressed and received? What alternatives to “college for all” are emerging as post-high school options in your community? Do you believe it is important to guide every child toward a college education, or do you see other valid paths available to students as they graduate from high school?
Most of the parents we asked agree that 100% graduation is an important goal – but warn that what that benchmark prepares students for varies widely. The notion of four-year college for everyone is, in many communities, met with suspicion, due to high costs and the access to “free” information in today’s world, as well as the technical nature of the available work in their communities. Four year colleges are not “one size fits all,” and vary widely in requirements, programs and outcomes.
There was unanimous agreement that some kind of post-secondary training is required for today’s work world, and that “we need skilled laborers every bit as much as college graduates.” Technical programs lead to legitimate, needed, honorable careers. Some respondents challenge us to think of the technical vocational route as a different kind of college experience, that with flexibility could nurture the kinds of entrepreneurs that historically led Minnesota industry to greatness. After all, many fields for which 2-year certifications are required use more STEM skills than almost all careers did a generation ago. Several people voiced concern that the traditional workforce clings to the 4-year degree as minimum-standard for opportunities, which can fly in the face of hardworking and effective people moving into jobs for which they are prepared and of a new system for providing for our 21st century economy.
We also heard that our teaching systems need to do a better job aligning E-12 with post-secondary career pathways, in all of their forms, and will need to provide thoughtful and broader guidance to all of our students. While schools need to continue to prepare anyone who wants one to pursue a 4-year college degree, they also need to provide clear information about quality options to those interested in certification programs, trades, and other vocational, and technical degrees. This demands more fluid and coordinated programs for high school students including internships and apprenticeships. It will also require ways to incent graduates to return to communities who need their skills. Most importantly, our systems need to do a good job with every youth to help them, as one advisor stated, “have the self-knowledge, motivation and passion” to choose the right path.
In addition to our Advisory Group input, we also noticed that columnist Lori Sturdevent recently wrote about the ways our 2015 Legislature is thinking about post-secondary options (see http://strib.mn/15uhlrw).