Early College Is A Game Changer

Monday, December 15, 2014 | Jim Kirkton

The graduation rate, a closely followed percentage in high schools, is losing its relevance.   It is not losing relevance because of lack of importance, but it is losing relevance, because by 2018, in Indiana, 55% of the new jobs will require more than a high school diploma.  According to this Georgetown University study, nationally, about 63% of available jobs will require some type of completed schooling beyond high school.  Certificates, internships, associate degrees, bachelor degrees, on the job training, military training, etc. will be required.  The attention on graduating from high school becomes misplaced, because graduation from high school is becoming more of a necessary step to qualify for the job related schooling to come.

While graduating from high school has served our workforce well, the pool of jobs now available to high school graduates is shrinking both in number and in pay.  In Elkhart County, 75% of the adult population above the age of 25 does not carry a credential above a high school diploma. This number totals 71,000 adults without a certificate or degree.  This lack of adult education attainment impacts the type of jobs that are available as well as the pay. 

The Milken Institute undertook a massive educational study exploring the impact of education beyond high school.  The Elkhart-Goshen corridor is one of the 240 largest metropolitan areas in the US.  Our ranking for education level of adults ranked 231 of the 240 areas studied.  The study followed regions over a number of years to measure the impact of education beyond high school.  The conclusions they found are very interesting. 

The study found that adding to the education level of the adult population has an impact on both the production measured in Gross Domestic Product and the income of all workers in the region.  In this study, the researchers were able to document that a one year increase in education of the adult population increased the region's production by 17.4%.  Along with this increase came an increase in wages of 17.8%.  This increased production and pay was for all workers, not just those with the advanced certificates, training, and degrees signaling quality of life impact for all.

For sure, high school graduation is an important step, but it can no longer be the goal. We like to refer to it as the ticket. 

In Elkhart County, the public schools are working very hard to change the education level of our population by opening Early Colleges throughout the county within the high school buildings by identifying and supporting first generation, minority, and/or low income students to begin their trek into higher education before leaving high school and for little or no cost.  Horizon Education Alliance, the public school systems, and Ivy Tech have forged partnerships to bring this opportunity to 400 high school students per class in Elkhart County.  These students will be well along their way to certificates or associate degrees before they graduate from high school.

While this is far more complicated than it sounds, it is important to understand that Early College is or will be available for students who with school support have proven that they are College and Career ready.  Schools are actively identifying students who may need the additional support and encouragement to take on this rigorous work at a younger age.

Early College is a relatively new movement, but it is supported by significant research which is readily available.  A recent major impact study (gold standard study) by American Institutes for Research, Washington, D.C. delineates the positive impact that Early College programs in schools has on student educational attainment.  This study and countless other studies are available by searching on line.

Early College is a game changer for students and has high potential to be impactful for our entire county.  This system provides opportunity to change lives while it enhances student earning potential as they complete certificates or degrees either in high school or soon thereafter.