A high school diploma is no longer enough.
Research demonstrates that an associate degree or a trade-related certificate is necessary today to secure family-sustaining skills and careers. With some innovative integration between high school and college, the Utah public education system can achieve the goal of helping every Utah graduate obtain a post-high school credential more quickly and at a lower cost than the current system.
Utah has a vested interest, both socially and economically, in having a better-educated workforce. Education is the path to enduring prosperity — a better trained population attracts higher-paying jobs, greater security and the relocation of companies to Utah. High-quality public education is worth the investment of resources and our best innovations to ensure we deliver the optimal education to all of Utah’s children.
Critics of a policy push to increase higher education attainment point to student motivation and insufficient fiscal resources as reasons it won’t work. Both of these concerns can be addressed by an innovative approach that removes inefficiencies in the process, designs a rigorous curriculum better aligned with the skills needed for success in the highest-growth jobs, provides more students with tangible, applied experiences at an earlier age and delivers more focused remediation.
Utah could effectively integrate high school and college and remove one year in the process — creating a kindergarten-to-13th grade experience that gives every student an opportunity to graduate with an associate degree and/or a certificate in a high-growth, high-income field.
This focused approach will encourage fewer dropouts and lower per-pupil costs for what has previously been refered to as a “two-year” degree. It will also produce better-prepared young adults. Upon completion of the post-high school credential, students will have the option to enter the workforce and/or take a rigorous college entrance exam in order to complete the last two years of their bachelor’s degree. Alternatively, anytime after the 11th grade, students who demonstrate true university-preparedness could enroll in a four-year university.
This integrated process will propel the state’s economy by producing the most-educated and career-ready graduates in the country.
Currently, many students take relatively small course-loads in the 12th grade. This revised system will redirect existing resources to support long-term learning goals, freeing-up financial resources to focus attention on students who need additional support or remediation.
Through better integration, many community college courses can be taught at the high schools by increasing the number of concurrent enrollment classes. This will improve the transition to college for many students, allowing them to take critical college curriculum while still participating in high-school extracurricular activities. It will also decrease Utah’s per pupil costs of higher education while leveraging high school facilities. Everyone wins.
Integrating higher education with the high school experience develops skills, provides a foundation for employment and promotes continued learning. Additionally, for students who identify an area of interest and begin developing marketable skills in the 11th grade, it opens greater opportunities for focus and confidence-building.
Imagine a student who in the 10th grade knows that if she applies herself in the subsequent three years, she will earn an associate-level certificate in medical device engineering, or nursing or auto-mechanics. She will have developed a valuable skill-set preparing her to enter the workforce or to further her studies and she will have done it at lower cost and less time than it takes through our current arrangement.
A high school education is no longer sufficient. By 2020, every graduate in Utah needs to obtain a post-high school credential. An integrated K-13 approach will significantly increase the reality of that goal for all of our students and will make that objective financially feasible.
This post is part of an ongoing series of data-driven commentary on current events. It was originally published in the Deseret News.