Coinciding with his State of the Union address, President Obama released a Blueprint for An America Built to Last. This blueprint contains several education based initiatives to “give hard-working, responsible American’s a fair shot.” Among these suggestions are:
- Forging new partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train and place 2 million skilled workers;
- Attracting, preparing, supporting, and rewarding great teachers to help students learn; and
- Keeping students in high school, which challenges all states to require all students to stay in school until their 18th birthday or they graduate.
In addition, Mr. Obama was in Ann Arbor last month to discuss his plan for keeping college affordable and within reach for all Americans. Included are plans to reform student aid to promote affordability; and more federal support to assist students, such as keeping interest rates on student loans down and increasing the number of work-study positions. The plan also calls on colleges and universities to keep costs down and colleges that can show they provide students with long-term value, would be given additional funds to help grow enrollment.
The President’s plan also includes a Race to the Top for College Affordability and Quality that would invest $1 billion to give states the incentive to:
- Maintain adequate funding levels for higher ed to address long term causes of tuition increases;
- Better align entry and exit standards with K-12 education to facilitate on-time completion; and
- Revamp how states structure higher ed financing.
On their face, these sound like great plans to help keep tuition costs from rising astronomically, help teachers prepare students for post-secondary education, and give students the best bang for their educational buck. In addition, these initiatives, when taken together, encourage students to stay in school and move into post-secondary education. However, even when states have tighter compulsory school requirements and tuition increases are small, many students, especially low-income students and students of color, end up over-aged and under-credited when it comes to high school graduation and need non-traditional pathways to graduation, as evidenced by data included in Michigan’s Children’s Building Michigan’s Future Workforce brief.
Additionally, Michigan law already pays to educate students up to age 20, but districts don’t consistently offer programs that re-engage dropouts, nor are they consistently developing and maintaining options for older students. These options work best when they are built on community college and workforce partnerships which often lead to students earning a post-secondary credential. We know these programs work and there are examples of these innovative partnerships throughout the state.
Overall, President Obama’s goals of attracting and rewarding great teachers, keeping students in high school, keeping tuition low and thus, getting more students into and completing college are noble. However, unless all students, regardless of income or district which they are enrolled, are allowed multiple pathways to graduation and encouraged to achieve a post-secondary education, far too many low-income students and students of color will still be left behind, and with a rapidly diversifying child population, do we really want our children of color, who will be the workforce of the future, unprepared for family and community sustaining employment?