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It’s no secret that college graduation rates in California aren’t what they should be, especially in geographically isolated and historically underserved communities.
All who care about our state’s students, communities and regional economies can take heart that Gov. Gavin Newsom is making this issue a priority, recently announcing the Council for Post-Secondary Education, an advisory board bringing together the state’s top education leaders and representatives of business and labor.
Charged with finding new ideas for increasing college completion in the Central and San Joaquin Valleys and Inland Empire, the Council has an important responsibility — and a remarkable opportunity — to tackle issues at the core of our state’s dismal postsecondary completion rates.
Too often conversations about college completion start and end with a focus on higher education institutions, without acknowledging that a student’s K-12 experience has direct bearing on their college achievement. What high school students learn and how they learn it have an impact that goes well beyond high school graduation rates and college acceptance rates — two important, oft-cited metrics.
Participating in rigorous curricula, developing skills, connections and motivations to succeed in the workplace, gaining exposure to college-level coursework and receiving personalized supports are vital to a young person’s capacity to navigate transitions to college and career.
We cannot assume that if a student makes it to college they’re firmly on the road to a credential or degree and a well-paying job. Beyond space in the college classroom, these students need access to supports that help them address the financial challenges and cultivate the social-emotional development essential to achieving a college degree.
Fortunately, California knows what it takes to help students thrive every step of the way. As proof, some schools and districts in the San Joaquin and Central Valleys and the Inland Empire — places where the Council’s energies will focus — are successfully guiding students along pathways that encourage them to dream bigger and transition better from K-12 through college and career.
These leaders are advancing equity and excellence through a Linked Learning approach to education that combines college and career preparation with market-relevant work experiences.
Independent evaluation shows that Linked Learning boosts academic success and readiness for what comes after high school. Research also shows that students in Linked Learning pathways in these regions, specifically, are more likely to attend and make it through postsecondary programs.
Consider the 2018 class of 124 graduates from Wonderful Ag Prep Academy, a San Joaquin Valley High School demonstrating the power of combining college and career preparation. Of this cohort, 99 young men and women enrolled in four-year colleges, including Fresno State, Sacramento State, CSU Bakersfield and Cal Poly. And 90 of these students graduated with community college associate degrees as a result of taking dual enrollment classes while in high school — so they could begin college as juniors, not freshmen.
Or visit San Bernardino City Unified School District, where students select from 34 pathways connected to industry sectors including transportation, manufacturing, agricultural technology and health sciences.
One creative partner, the County of San Bernardino, launched Generation GO! to provide paid internships: High school seniors in medical pathways gain experience in the region’s medical center, while students involved in public service pathways are placed in a variety of other county departments.
Spending meaningful time in real-world workplaces inspires these young people; they see a direct connection between college and career achievement and understand the value of engaging in civic life. In tandem, the county is attracting candidates to help meet its future demands for skilled workers.
As with any complex problem, there are no simple solutions to our state’s low college graduation rate. I urge the Council and others who shape education policy to study and help bring California innovations that are working to more students and communities around the state.
This includes continuing effective approaches like Linked Learning and ensuring they are implemented at high quality and attuned to the needs of local communities and regional industries — and extending key elements of these approaches into higher education to help students move toward success at every step in the high school to college to career journey.
I applaud the Newsom administration for placing an emphasis on college completion. I am encouraged that the group of leaders exploring this topic spans our educational and economic systems, because the experience of California school districts committed to effective college and career preparation shows that answers lie in making connections like these.
When educators, employers, community-based organizations and policymakers work together, the future — for students and California — is unlimited.
Anne Stanton is President of the Linked Learning Alliance and is the principal architect of the Linked Learning movement in California where she has worked to reinvent how high schools approach college and career preparedness in the state.
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