If the goal of P-12 education is to prepare students for success in the adult world that follows, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect when a high school diploma is handed over. Students are sent off to college as adults and there is a sharp separation between the support and guidance in all the classrooms they've ever visited and the new ones on the horizon. We seem to assume that our well-educated youth will know exactly how to act on their own when it comes to secondary education. That's a problem.
A study from Harvard University found that only 56 percent of college freshman actually receive a degree within six years, and only 29 percent of students in two-year programs actually finish. If those numbers were applied to a P-12 system words like "outrageous" and "failure" would be tossed around, particularly if these were public schools. Yet, so far, the American public seems content to let these numbers lie. Culturally, there are many "acceptable" reasons why students make a goal to earn a college degree and then change their minds. They are, after all, adults right?
Enter the concept of P-16 education. The term used to describe the goal of creating a seamless education system of public education that spans the years from pre-school through college completion. One of the major themes of P-16 education is to reduce the number of high school graduates that need remedial education at the college level. This, in turn, will reduce college dropout rates and ensure a more qualified workforce.
Taking that concept a step further, P-20 initiatives support collaboration between academics and workforce training. Instead of handing over a college degree with a "good luck," colleges and universities with P-20 programs strive to guide students in their early careers. Organizations like the P-20 Council of Connecticut offer readiness workshops and help college graduates find and keep jobs.
States and individual colleges that have put P-16 and P-20 programs into place have seen success. Things like achievement gaps narrow when students are given a more streamlined approach to their entire education and how it all amounts to workforce readiness. Education reform through these specific initiatives is the key to cultivating the life success of all students, regardless of their race and socioeconomic status. It seems like there is a lot of talk about supporting P-12 students from disadvantaged backgrounds, but it quiets after high school.
Shouldn't that be the time when students blazing a new family trail should have the MOST support? Additionally, if these students have always had support on their P-12 journey - how are they supposed to feel when they are suddenly on their own?
Students from disadvantaged backgrounds can certainly benefit from P-16 and P-20 programs, but I believe the value of these initiatives is even more far-reaching. Even young adults with a strong family support system regarding their educations, and successful role models, are coming of age in a time much different than previous generations. Workforce readiness is a whole different ball of wax than even a decade ago. Young adults cannot be expected to know or understand the full ramifications of their roles in the economy without close guidance, particularly in the early years of their careers.
College and the years that follow it should certainly be a time of self-discovery, and not everything should be taught or mandated by the country's education system. Educators, from preschool through college, should do a better job of preparing students for what life will bring them, though. More focus on the immediate years following P-12 will result in better academic outcomes that translate into a better quality of life for students.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Pearson, please click on the following link.