There are numerous partnerships that have sprouted in recent years between school districts and their local community colleges. Superintendents and college presidents have managed to blur the line that frequently exists between K-12 and higher ed. There are many advantages to do this for both institutions but it is the students that benefit the most.
Recently, under the auspices of AASA and the American Association of Community Colleges, superintendents and community college presidents come together to share the results of their partnerships and to consider what steps can be taken to broaden their collaboration.
The K-12 goal to get students to be college and career ready for the top forty percent of students is not much of a challenge. It is the remaining sixty percent that will require some heavy lifting, particularly for minority students and students living in poverty. A bachelor’s degree after four years of college is a lofty goal that may not be desirable or realizable for some students. We are also aware of the heavy student debt and lack of employment opportunity that many of our four-year college graduates face today.
At the same time we hear from the business community that thousands of jobs that do not require a four-year degree are begging to be filled but the skilled workers are not there. Our community colleges are positioned to meet this demand and provide a viable option to the many students that do not aspire to a bachelor’s degree, or cannot afford it, and would benefit from acquiring employable skills with an associate’s degree. The two-year colleges also provide a viable option for students that cannot afford the bachelor’s degree but can complete the first two years at a community college.
Many school districts are now working with their local community colleges to provide the pathways that will present students with the options that best fit their interests, talents and economic situation. College and career ready can mean a post-secondary education with a host of opportunities ranging from certification in a trade to a postgraduate professional degree.
The dropout rate for Black and Latino students still hovers above the fifty percent mark. A college degree is a distant reality for a student that faces the daily challenges of having to contribute to the financial support of their family or who is simply not motivated to consider a post-secondary education. Rather than allowing these students to disappear from our schools, superintendents are partnering with their community college presidents to design programs that begin at high school and carry through enrollment at the community college. It is an opportunity that has appeal to many of our white middle class students as well.
Today, higher standards have been set and all students must achieve them in order to graduate from high school. However, there is nothing to prevent schools from offering their students alternative pathways to the diploma. The Seminole County Public Schools in Florida require the same high standards for all of their graduates, including four years of math. In partnership with Seminole State College and the University of Central Florida, as superintendent Walt Griffin says, “ A Seminole student can ride his bike to school from kindergarten right through his doctorate.”
Students can earn up to twelve college credits in high school and are offered a myriad of options that cover every conceivable course of study. Griffin and Seminole State College President, Ann McGee, have forged a unique, almost seamless, K-16 relationship that even includes the sharing of two members that sit on both boards.
In Illinois, AASA President-elect David Schuler and his colleagues in the feeder school districts have also created multiple pathways to secondary credentials with Harper College President Ken Ender. Together they have worked to better prepare the high school students to be college and career ready through a significant increase in the number of students taking dual credit courses and an emphasis on math readiness that has reduced by 21% the number of students requiring math remediation at the college.
These successful partnerships between community colleges and school districts must extend to all communities in America. We will continue to partner with our colleagues at AACC to realize that goal.