This recent piece from the Center for American Progress is very interesting and something to watch: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/02/college_for_all.html. This suggests that there may be three approaches to addressing student readiness for college (College for All, College for Some, and Middle Ground) and I believe that continuing and professional education units have a role to play in each one.
College for All
The argument proposed here is that we should make the effort to provide equal opportunities for all students to pursue postsecondary opportunities after graduation from high school. The problem is that only 18% of high school graduates actually complete post secondary degrees within six years after graduation. So many may start but few persist or complete. This leaves most without the education and training needed for emerging fields.
Outreach & Engagement has a clear role to play in finding ways to support these individuals, from working with business and industry in developing job-related curriculum, developing programming that is flexible and offered in formats that meet the needs of working adults, providing accessible and relevant student services, and working with business, industry, K-12 schools, and community college partners to create a seamless pathway for students from high school to training to a two-year degree to a four-year degree — and beyond.
College for Some
This approach takes into consideration that going to college is not the best path for all students, and that we would better serve students by offering tracks that will prepare students for a range of opportunities. One of the problems with this approach is by sorting students into different “tracks” at an early stage in their education, we are not truly offering the same opportunities to all students or making generalizations that actually limit opportunities.
Our role with this approach is multifold; we can act as a liaison between the various constituents (whether they be business, community colleges, k-12, or four-year schools) who are or will be working with high school graduates so that each understands and appreciates the others’ points of view. Secondly, we have the power to convene these groups and bring them to the table; because we don’t have a particular ax to grind, we can be an honest non-biased broker.
The middle ground levels the playing field for all students by having a common set of rigorous standards for all students, therefore not closing off opportunities by tracking students into specific tracks. Not all students come to high school with the same level of aspiration for intended careers, and we should use high school to expand opportunities rather than limiting them.
One very important role we can play is in this area is making dual enrollment opportunities available. We have the opportunity and the obligation to develop dual enrollment courses that will expose high school students to not only college level rigor but also to the perspectives and expertise of our faculty. We can assist in the design of these courses and in making partnerships between our faculty and the high school faculty; this means that not only do students benefit from these experiences, but it’s also a faculty development experience for both high school and college faculty.
As I look at this challenge, those of us in Outreach and Engagement are well positioned to be leaders in advocating for best practices in offering dual enrollment courses, advocates for those who may have stopped out and are ready to return, and advocates for providing opportunities to assist all learners to reach their potential.