U promotes college readiness and postsecondary education

University officials are working on ways to better prepare young students for education after high school.

by Ahnalese Rushmann

By this time of the year, many high school seniors have some kind of postsecondary education on their minds. But the University says not enough do.

University officials are working on ways to better prepare Minnesota’s students throughout earlier education for learning after high school.

The plan isn’t to pipeline high school students to the University, officials say, but there’s hope that getting more students in the “college mentality” will improve current state figures.

What’s the problem?

Sixty-five percent of Minnesotans enroll in college after high school graduation – making this one of the top states in the nation, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

However, in 2004, the four-year graduation rate at state four-year colleges and universities was just 36 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. The graduation rate for undergraduate students within six years was 57 percent.

But it’s not the University’s job to dictate what state educators do for younger students. Instead, it’s to help guide them, said Senior Vice President Robert Jones.

“We do have an obligation to help leverage our resources,” he said Thursday to the Board of Regents Educational Planning and Policy Committee.

Kent Pekel, director of the University’s College Readiness Consortium, said old educational models aren’t aligned with today’s demands.

“Historically, K-12 education in the United States and higher education were totally separate systems; they were designed to be,” he said. “We’ve really left it to individual kids and families to make the jump from one to another.”

U initiatives aim to connect

The consortium will help implement initiatives designed to get state students to think about life beyond high school.

“The basic point of all this stuff is shifting the minimum expectation that we have for kids,” Pekel said, “So every kid has a high school diploma, so every kid has a postsecondary credential or degree.”

University President Bob Bruininks currently chairs the Minnesota P-16 Partnership – an educational policy forum made up of 21 state organizations.

The partnership aims to address key issues and better qualify future workers. It includes groups like the state education department, the Office of Higher Education and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

The University also partnered with state groups to form the Minnesota Principals Academy to provide leadership training to state principals.

Ramp-up to Readiness, a Bush Foundation-funded program, will be introduced in nine urban and suburban middle schools and high schools this summer.

Students in the program will develop plans to guide them through high school with the future in mind.

Schools need to be realistic with all students, across all socioeconomic and interest levels, Pekel said, and help students prepare for college, rather than just tell them to go.

Reaction and looking ahead

Jennifer McCabe, a Duluth campus first-year and student representative to the regents at the meeting, said the idea of treating all high schools as college preparatory schools could help.

Too often, students come to college unprepared, she said, adding that some of her classmates were blindsided by the college-level workload.

And low aptitude and low aspirations aren’t the biggest problems, Pekel said. Minnesota colleges will have to deal with a drop in the resources they can draw from.

Nationally, the annual number of high school graduates will start to decline after the next couple years, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The trend will prove true in Minnesota, Pekel said.

The consortium hopes to start seeing “modest results” in three to five years, but Pekel said it’s a 10-year project. Current estimates can only be based on wishful thinking, he said.

For years, colleges and universities waited for “college-ready kids to show up,” Pekel said.

Unless colleges and universities want a thinner applicant pool, he said, “We’re going to have to grow more college-ready kids.”