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Education reality by numbers
Kevin J. Fleming, Correspondent
Posted: 01/23/2011 05:40:01 PM PST

The one-way-to-win paradigm is strong within our culture. It teaches that everyone should enroll directly into college to pursue a bachelor's degree. In many cases, the college going rate is a key measure that evaluates a high school's success. Thus, a majority of a school's time and resources are directed toward increasing the number of students that enroll in college. But we must examine the local reality of our educational system to determine 1) how many of our students are actually enrolling directly into college, 2) how many complete college, and 3) how many receive commensurate employment after graduation.
Between 2000 and 2008 in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, 64 percent of high school students who began as freshmen graduated within four years, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission. So right off the bat, we can assume that about 36 percent of our region's students who are not graduating from high school and are not enrolling directly into college, are either incarcerated, remain unemployed, or join the local work force. 
Of the students mentioned above that graduated from high school in the Inland Empire in 2008, 40 percent directly enrolled in a public or private college or university in California. The remaining high school graduates (60 percent of the graduating class) did not continue on to college. Presumably, they either moved out of state or sought employment.
Now, if we calculate the college-going rate based on the total number of ninth- graders that started high school in the Inland Empire, it ends up being 26 percent. So, we know that, on average, only 26 percent of the youths in Inland Empire will directly enroll in college. Stated another way, 74 percent of ninth graders are not college bound - at least not right away. This might be a little shocking considering all the attention given to enrolling in college, but this is fairly normal compared to other regions in the state. This 74 percent needs alternatives to the "college prep" mentality and curriculum. 
Yet, just applying and getting into college isn't the end goal (at least it shouldn't be). Research shows that many teens are simply not ready for college right after high school. For many students, college may be the right answer, but right after high school may not be the right time. Many are not adequately prepared, emotionally or intellectually equipped, or occupationally focused to succeed. Many students stop attending college for personal, family, medical or other reasons. 
Throughout California, we know that 62 percent of full-time college freshmen complete a bachelor's degree within six years, from a 2008 report by Nancy Shulock, a public policy professor at Cal State Sacramento. This means that among the 26 percent of ninth graders in the Inland Empire, only 16 percent of them will complete their bachelor's degree. Thus, the reality of our regional educational attainment is that only a small portion, 16 percent, of the ninth-graders in Inland Empire high schools will graduate from high school, enroll in college, and graduate from college with a bachelor's degree within six years. 
There's one more nuance we have to consider. The federal departments of education and labor report that there are 57 predicted jobs requiring a four-year degree for every 100 people who earn one. That means that 43 percent of future college graduates will be underemployed, taking jobs that do not require a four-year degree (which they could have obtained before investing time and money in college), and earning less than expected.
So, if we return to our ninth-graders in the Inland Empire, for every 100 in our high schools, 16 will graduate with a bachelor's degree, and, of those, seven will be underemployed, and only nine will secure commensurate employment after graduating from college. Yes, only 9 percent of our local ninth graders will win the one-way-to-win game that our culture perpetuates. 
There is no silver bullet or magic solution to address the educational reality in the Inland Empire. What these numbers illustrate, however, is:  We should always promote open access and provide the opportunity for students to fulfill their highest potential, but to delude ourselves into believing that everyone has the ability and desire to be successful in college right after high school (at the expense of those who do not enroll) is simply insane. 
We must shift our paradigm about preparing all children for college. Most high school counselors, administrators and school boards assert that all students will go to college and they promote a one-size-fits-all approach to high school curriculum. But all this achieves is setting up 74 percent of ninth-graders for failure while starving them of the tools they will need to be successful in the work force.
College-prep, and career and technical education, are complementary, not competing, goals. The Tech Prep approach is one state-led structure that provides both the academic rigor and technical preparation required for our students to be successful in the 21st-century workplace. Both community colleges and high schools should embrace this college-ready and career-ready approach. 
We do not adequately prepare the 74 percent of ninth graders that will directly enter the work force with work-readiness skills. We have stripped most schools of vocational programs, and where they are present, these Career and Technical Education courses are chronically under funded.
We need to educate counselors, parents and students about the realities of college. We should be focused on ensuring that those who enroll in college both graduate and find commensurate employment. This requires directing students into fields that not only have projected openings and require highly technical skills, but they must also be aligned with the individual student's abilities and interests. 
We should not simply be directing our youth to get a four-year degree in "something" with false pretenses and unrealistic expectations that it will lead to success. The obtainment of a four-year degree is no longer the golden ticket to financial success that it once was. Skills and industry certifications are the new currency.


Kevin J. Fleming is the associate dean of Career and Technical Education at Norco College.
Read more: http://www.sbsun.com/ci_17176288?source=rss_emailed#ixzz1BzSdEZr6

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