Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hitting The Road

August 6, 2009 - It’s summer. And all across America, people are packing up their RVs, minivans and SUVs and hitting the road. They’re heading to the coasts and trekking to the mountains. They’re off to sightsee in places they’ve only read about. They’re exploring unknown places they’ve only seen on tv. Now imagine, on a whim, you pack up your family and drive 500 miles away to experience someplace new – someplace educational for the kids. Let’s say, Washington D.C.

After about 10 hours in the car you cruise down Pennsylvania Avenue, take a glimpse at the White House, turn your head and quickly take in the Capital, glance at the Lincoln Memorial, although you can’t see Lincoln inside, then find a parking spot and run through the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Now hop back in the minivan and turn back for home with vague memories of neoclassic architecture and million year old fossils. Not the ideal vacation to say the least in a city that you could spend weeks exploring and still not experience all it has to offer.

Well according to a recent article in the Boston Globe, for graduates of local high schools, that’s what it’s like for our college-bound population. Kids are getting to college, but leaving early.

Educators are celebrating an increase in the number of students who graduate high school and transition to college. Higher than the national average, 78% of the city’s seniors enrolled in a two-year or four-year school. But later in the article The Globe reports, “A landmark study conducted by the Center for Labor Market Studies last year on the city’s high school classes of 2000 found that only about a third of those who enrolled in college had graduated seven years later.” (That’s right SEVEN years later.) It’s one thing to get to college, but if students don’t benefit from all it has to offer, and ultimately leave early without a degree (and likely a significant debt burden) is that success?

Critics say that high schools need to increase the academic rigor to make sure students are better prepared. They believe they are addressing the root of the persistence problem. Others take a more band-aid approach and call for partnerships with non-profits to provide academic support while students are in college. These critics believe this after-the-fact approach will help students persist.
Yet isn’t academic preparedness only one, albeit substantial, determining factor in college graduation rates? There exists a myriad of reasons why large numbers of academically-sound students drop out of college, including financial resources as stated in the article. In fact, the number one reason students drop-out is because they lack a four-year financial plan.

And as more first-generation students enroll in college, a disconnect between the process of “going to college” and “why I am going to college” widens. More students are entering an institution and simply do not have a plan or a career pathway – complete with goals, financing, a checklist of what they need to achieve and the order in which it needs to be achieved, who’s monitoring and/or assisting and guiding them. Why can’t we get this right in this country?

As an education system, we’ve become adept at telling our young people they need to earn a college degree. We require them to visit the guidance office senior year. We hand them applications for schools we think they’d get into. We send them on their way in June. What we (educators and employers) need to do is work with our young people in earlier stages and throughout each of the stages to help them develop a career pathway, ensure that they stay on that plan, that the plan is affordable and doable, that we can intervene and motivate as needed. We wouldn’t drive to Washington DC without a map, road signs and safety nets to keep us well rested and fueled up… so why do we send kids off to college in hopes that they’ll find their way but without any of the basic tools needed to navigate?

Fortunately, innovations are available to bring counselors, employers and students together to empower the student with resources and information for creating a sensible, individual plan. Showing students what is possible – and what they need to do to make it possible - will help guide their decisions as they transition to the right college and the right career. Solutions are available that allow adults to engage the student throughout their process – high school, then college, then their career. With the right tools, students can figure out where they want to be, how to make getting there affordable, the benefits of being there, and furthermore, how to get them on that road to success with no turning back.

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