Editorial: Pie-in-the-sky education goals
Obtaining college degrees difficult when foundation is lacking
Latest ACT test results and reactions demonstrate a need for Oregonians to better align our education system with the real needs of young people.
Some find it absurd that Oregon has an official goal that 80 percent of residents obtain a college degree or credential. There clearly are broad categories of jobs – including some that pay a living wage – that don’t currently necessitate higher education. But such opportunities are fading fast and 96 percent of high school students in the class of 2014 told ACT that they expect to attend college for four years or more in preparation for careers.
This reflects are fairly clear-eyed view of how technology and the global nature of the modern economy have increased pressure on young people to compete for opportunities. High school graduates on the front line of the entry-level job market witness just how hard a struggle it is to build a decent life based on only a high school diploma.
Many of today’s high school seniors will, in fact, never graduate from college. As Oregonian writer Betsy Hammond noted in a useful overview last week, currently about 75 percent of the state’s students graduate from high school and 60 percent of those start college, while fewer than 60 percent of college-starters managed to obtain a degree from an in-state school during a recent six-year period. This translates into something like 27 out of every 100 Oregon students reaching the bachelor’s degree finish line, far short of our target of 80. (Of course some others successfully attend out-of-state universities and colleges not included in Hammond’s quick analysis.)
In many cases Oregon would do better to provide alternate pathways to success, instead of making college the default answer for eight out of every 10 students. We should do far more to provide options such as trade apprenticeships, advanced technical training and public/corporate partnerships.
But recent ACT results also show we are doing a poor job of giving students the preparation they need in order to have a fair shot at succeeding in college, if that is the path that best suits them. Only 30 percent of ACT testees achieved college entry-level scores in all four testing areas – English, reading, math and science. We especially let down Hispanic, African-American and American Indian students, whose passing levels are in some cases less than a third of those of whites and Asian-Americans.
It is a travesty of Cover Oregon proportions to set a goal of 80 percent for college graduation while we countenance K-12 schooling that allows only 11 percent of our African-American students to pass the ACT science test, to cite just one failure. This isn’t the kids’ fault, it’s ours as adults when we set pie-in-the-sky goals and then fail to provide anything approaching the level of commitment needed to fulfill them.