Meet Marco Reyes. Marco, a recent graduate from Rio Americano High School, is now attending American River College (ARC) with a significant advantage: he had an opportunity to earn college credit as a high school senior.
When he started high school, Marco took an introductory woodshop class. The following year, he took two high school woodshop classes and developed an interest in welding. In Marco’s junior and senior years, he enrolled in Rio Americano’s college welding courses, which were held on the high school campus. Marco turned his interest in welding into early college credit. Not only did he earn college credit before college, but he also felt at ease making the transition from high school to college because of the relationships he made with ARC welding faculty.
Marco is not alone. In the last academic year, more than 2,100 high school students in the greater Sacramento region earned college credit through agreements their schools made with local colleges. While that number may sound impressive, it’s only a fraction of the approximately 115,000 regional high school students. We can and must do more. Why? The answer is simple: students who have the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school have a greater success rate of continuing on to postsecondary education, completing their education at a faster pace and being better equipped to compete for jobs in the economy of today and tomorrow.
A study commissioned by Jobs for the Future found that:
- High school students who completed a college course before graduation (defined here as dual enrollees) were nearly 50 percent more likely to earn a college degree from college within six years;
- Students who completed college courses through dual enrollment were significantly more likely to attend college, persist in college and complete an associate’s degree or higher within six years;
- Findings were consistent among all racial groups and for students from low-income families.
We need our educational system to meet the demands of the economy of today and tomorrow. How do we do this? By expanding three successful practices at the high school level, which will allow students to gain both knowledge and skills and launch them into careers in a more rapid and meaningful way.
First, we need to increase career exploration programs in high school. A great example of this is the progressive education curriculum, Get Focused…Stay Focused or GFSF, which helps high school students prepare for college and careers with a 10-year plan. The GFSF program begins in 9th grade with a dedicated 90-hour course and continues in grades 10th-12th with 16 hours embedded in other courses. Students study the following themes: Who am I? What do I want for a lifestyle and career? How do I make it happen? The curriculum culminates with an online 10-year plan that guides students through high school, postsecondary education and into their career of choice. More than 6,000 students in the Sacramento area had an opportunity to participate in this career exploration program.
Second, not only are career exploration programs critical, but so are increasing pathway education options for high school students. These pathways are industry-specific programs, such as engineering or healthcare, that structure student connections to specific postsecondary degree and certificate programs. Additionally, these pathways help to define the industry’s expectations and skills, so students can clearly see how their present education leads to a career. High schools that offer education pathways are able to deepen students’ commitment to a postsecondary education, increase work-based learning opportunities and provide students with hands-on experiences that offer business-required soft skills. Bottom line: these pathways help students move the needle by turning their dreams into reality.
Finally, while we are seeing more high schools and colleges join forces to offer students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school, we have to make dual enrollment and articulated courses a priority. After all, earning college credit in high school is not just about earning a degree; it’s about getting a head start on a career. We would like to see the number of students who receive college credit in high school grow tenfold, from 2,100 local students to more than 20,000 students.
Think about Marco and students like him, who would not have found their future had they not been afforded these opportunities. Even better, imagine if we extended our reach and afforded these opportunities to every student in the Sacramento region. We all stand to benefit: students, education, industry, the economy. Let’s get to work.
Teri Munger is a K-14 pathways regional technical assistance provider for California Community Colleges in the Greater Sacramento Region.
The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.