High school graduation rates are rising across Washington. More than 80 percent of students are graduating from high school. That’s good news, but it’s not enough.
The jobs of tomorrow will require education beyond high school, either a college degree or professional training. Today’s high school students know that, as demonstrated in a survey of students included in a recent report from the Road Map Project. But those young people also know they will need more help to reach their career dreams.
This isn’t a problem of public education failing to give students what they need. “This is a bigger societal call to action,” said Mary Jean Ryan, executive director of the Community Center for Education Results.
The eight-year-old nonprofit’s Road Map Project is working to eliminate educational inequity in South King County and South Seattle. Advocacy, education and government partners have banded together since 2010 in pursuit of this ambitious goal. They want 70 percent of students in South King County and South Seattle to earn a college degree or career credential by 2030.
Unfortunately, progress is slow. Less than a third of South King County and South Seattle students currently earn a two- or four-year college degree by the their mid-20s. Statewide, Washington has one of the best public college graduation rates in the nation both at four-year schools (68% six years after high school) and two-year schools (28%), according to National Center for Education Statistics data analyzed by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The keys to turning that around for all students are well-known:
• All students should enter kindergarten ready to learn. Children need high quality early learning to prepare them for regular school.
• Career planning and academic guidance must be top-notch in high school, especially in places where many parents did not go to college.
• College prep means both academic achievement and help applying to college and filling out financial-aid forms.
• First-in-family college students, often from low-income families, need extra help and encouragement once they get into college or career training programs. This help is needed especially at community colleges.
Educators, government officials and advocacy groups should be paying attention to the meaningful work of The Road Map Project in seven King County school districts: Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, South Seattle and Tukwila.
One current focus is on meaningful college prep.
Washington state already requires students to complete a “high school and beyond plan” before graduating. Although many schools and students put little time or energy into this useful tool, it could be used for actively benchmarking a student’s progress. A counselor or teacher should have frequent one-on-one check-ins with students during high school to mentor them toward graduation.
Education leaders need the Legislature to fund more counselors for this work. Lawmakers should consider giving lower-income schools more counselors per student because the need for help is greater in areas where fewer parents have college experience.
All of King County is the backyard of one of the most knowledge-based economies in the world. Every high school, from the richest to the poorest, should have the tools they need to make sure students can go to college or train for a good career.