Over the weekend, The Seattle Times writer Katherine Long indicated in 'Why Washington's kids aren't going to college' that state students were no longer attending two- and four-year colleges in the same numbers they once did in the last two decades.
While the national trend saw a nine-point increase in high-school graduates who did go on to college in the last 20 years, the state's numbers fell from 58 percent in 1992 to 51 percent in 2008, the article said.
The article suggested a number of factors that contributed to the current perceived 'weak college-going culture,' among them a K-12 system that doesn't align well with college admissions requirements.
Not so in Enumclaw
The Enumclaw School District has made notable progress in recent years getting students to challenge themselves academically and administrators are noting the progress. Schools Superintendent Mike Nelson said that in the last three years, the number of students entering a four-year college upon graduating from Enumclaw High School increased from 38 percent in 2010 to 41 percent in 2012.
At its foundation, the Enumclaw School Board has adopted more rigorous graduation requirements at 24 credits, which is more than the state minimum and which aligns better with college prerequisites, said Nelson.
Students at Enumclaw High School are encouraged to pursue Advanced Placement and honors coursework, and interest in doing so has increased noticeably. In 2003, just 3 percent of the student body took 48 AP tests where 39 percent of those tests received a score of 3 or higher (considered passing). In 2010, 16 percent of the student body took 209 tests, and 85 percent of those tests received a score of 3 or higher.
AP classes aren't limited to upperclassmen either, as freshmen are encouraged to pursue the advanced coursework too, and they like it.
And as district director of curriculum, instruction and assessment Terry Parker noted earlier this month, middle school students are now getting a head start completing high school graduation requirements in math while still in the eighth grade.
Information is Key
In spite of recent successes to elevate students to a higher academic platform, there's always room for improvement, said School Board member Corey Cassell.
"I see us as a community in transition, making good progress toward increased college enrollment," he said in an email to Patch this week.
What would help to move the effort along is for educators to better connect with parents and students early on -- like before they leave middle school. "Too often, parents and students do not even start thinking about the next step beyond High School until it is already too late," he said. "Senior year is not the time for students to start thinking about their future. Ideally, the plan starts at the end of their 8th grade year when they begin choosing their freshman classes. Yes, you read that correctly, 8th grade."
Some of that cultural shift in thinking and prioritizing has already begin, Cassell said, citing the change in PSAT administration last year. While the test used to be limited to juniors and given on a Saturday, which conflicted with family and athletic schedules, it is now being offered during the school day. The PSATs provide a chance to practice for the SATs that are typically a mandatory component of college admission and start exploring scholarship opportunities under the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
But the communication needs work, and Cassell said it's not just a problem in Enumclaw. "Counselors are overloaded to a point where they cannot spend quality time with students to help them understand where they are on the spectrum of college readiness versus minimum graduation requirements," he said. "Ideally, every high school parent should sign a letter of understanding at the beginning of each high school year, outlining where their child stands with regard to graduation requrements and college readiness. If we did this, the communication picture would change almost overnight."
Where interest, preparation and excitement for pursuing a college education aren't lacking, financial constraints often pose another obstacle.
The Times article suggested that a dependence on the state's two-year colleges may be affecting enrollment numbers at four-year schools and further cited state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle with crediting state lawmakers for setting aside more money for college financial aid than most other states in the county.
But according to Cassell, financial aid is not enough. "Economics often control the decisions families make regarding higher education. ... 4-year universities have become prohibitively expensive for many families to the point of being out of reach for the average family. If there is one thing that should be addressed in Washington State, it would be affordability. Something is wrong when a student can attend a state college in a different state for about the same amount as UW or WSU."
Still to Come Next Week: The Growing Importance of Cultivating Skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
What do you think? When do you start planning for your child(ren)'s college education? What academic and/or financial issues are you and your child(ren) facing when considering higher education? Is it so important what type of post-high-school education your children receive as opposed to how well it prepares them to join the work force? How does the in-state business climate look to you in terms of opportunities for your children when they enter the work force? Tell us in the comments.