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State college-going: Sinking, not treading water

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 24, 2012 at 8:05 pm with No Comments »
September 24, 2012 6:08 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Here’s another pin to stick in the balloon of complacency about Washington’s education system.

The Seattle Times has unearthed an exceptionally disturbing trend: This state isn’t merely failing to provide enough college opportunity to its children. It is actually slipping backward – providing less than it did 20 years ago.

One important indicator is the percentage of students who enroll full time in either a two- or four-year college immediately after graduating from high school.

In 1992, the Times reported Sunday, 58 percent of Washington high schoolers went straight into higher education, well above the national average of 54 percent. Our rank: 11th in the nation.

As of 2008, though, the national average had risen to 63 percent – but Washington’s rate of immediate college-going had fallen to 51 percent. Our rank: 46th in the nation.

These numbers might seem to contradict Washington’s generally strong education statistics. Our state’s tech industries, especially, abound in people with bachelor’s and graduate degrees.

But there’s no contradiction. As we have often noted, many of Washington’s largest and most profitable companies – Microsoft, for example – often have to look to other states, even other countries, when recruiting well-educated professionals.

Washingtonian students aren’t dumber than students in Massachusetts, Minnesota or India. The College Board just reported that our high schoolers scored first in the nation (tied with Vermont) on the SAT among states where large numbers of students take the test.

Yet too few Washingtonians are getting through high school, through community colleges and through universities. Kids with the innate talent to succeed academically are often winding up at the side of the road, watching the outside competition land many of the state’s best jobs.

The College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center studies barriers to college opportunity. It offers 10 remedies, including expanded preschool, more college counseling, better-trained teachers and research-based dropout prevention efforts. These ought to be required reading for citizens and lawmakers.

An initiative in South King County looks impressive. There, according to the Times, seven school districts with low college-going rates have formed the Community Center for Education Results.

This partnership targets schoolchildren who might not otherwise make it to college – or even through high school.

In the Kent district, for example, every kindergartner visits a college campus. In one elementary school, each classroom has “adopted” a college, and students wear its colors once a week.

It’s going to take that kind of dedication to give Washington students the same opportunity as their peers in states that take their children’s future more seriously.

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