Many issues are driving the push for education reform and many “experts” have different ideas of what that should entail. Most of the chatter I have heard centers around two key areas – workforce development and college readiness. Last July, President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative, calling for five million more college graduates by 2020, to help the United States again lead the world in educational attainment. Nearly 70 percent of high school graduates in the United States enroll in college within two years of graduating, only about 57 percent of students who enroll in a bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who begin at a community college graduate with an associate’s degree within three years. We can’t improve college graduation rates if we don’t improve K-12 education. Tied to that data are two questions I’ve heard on more than one occasion — “Should a college education be the goal for all students?” and “What can we do to prepare students for the real world?” The questions may seem different but my answer to both is the same.
When asked if a college education should be the goal for all students my response is “Yes, the same skills needed to succeed in college are the same skills needed to succeed in the workforce.” When asked what we can do to prepare students for the real world my response is “The same skills needed to succeed in college are the same skills needed to succeed in the workforce.” Students need options. We should not be excluding students from any post high school possibilities. A college education offers the opportunity for students to grow and develop mentally, intellectually, socially, and emotionally. The days when an employee spends his entire adult life working in one company are long gone. Critical thinking skills, good communication skills, good writing skills, and good technological and researching skills are necessary to adapt to the constantly changing environments and emerging demands that are commonplace in our new economy.
So, as we consider the multiple education reform ideas and options we must not put students “in a box” or steer them in one single direction. Their goals and paths will change. We must prepare students to succeed in higher education and a career – they deserve nothing less.