Tackling the Decline in College-Going | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Tackling the Decline in College-Going

This week on Innovations in Education, we wanted to better understand the decline in college-going happening in Kentucky and nationally. Since our panel included three superintendents and an education cooperative director, we also talked about plans for high school graduation ceremonies, how remote learning is going, and how districts are planning now for the start of school in the fall.

The decline in college-going caught our eye last week when President Aaron Thompson of Kentucky’s Council on Postsecondary Education released their annual report Stronger by Degrees.  The release of the report was cause for celebration with the increase in degrees and credentials held by Kentuckians – from 43.6% in 2015 to 46.9% of Kentucky adults ages 25-64 held a postsecondary degree or certificate – on our way to the goal of 60 percent by 2030. However, the report also was cause for concern, noting a decline in total enrollment and the percentage of Kentucky high school graduates transitioning to college in recent years. Susan Perkins Weston provided important additional analysis on attainment and college-going on our blog last week.

The case for college-going as part of a big, bold future for more Kentuckians is simple: individuals and families with higher levels of education do better. Having a marketable degree or credential pays more in the immediate as well as over a lifetime, and those with higher levels of education experience lower levels of unemployment. As a state that ranks 5th from the bottom of the nation in poverty, increasing our college-going rate while at the same time continuing the good work to increase the attainment rate to and beyond the national rate – is a key strategy to ensuring a big, bold future for Kentucky.

Our panelists included:

  • Casey Allen, Ballard County Superintendent
  • Karen Chesser, Ft. Thomas Independent Superintendent
  • Amy Thompson Monroe County Superintendent
  • David Johnson, Southeast Southcentral Educational Cooperative Executive Director

Key Takeaways: (check out our Twitter feed for quotes from our panelists)

  • High school graduation:
    • Will happen, one way or another, and exciting plans will soon be revealed in some school districts. New traditions are sure to take root as a result of the creativity necessary in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • College-Going:
    • In many areas of Kentucky, career-readiness and industry certificates are an important alternative to college readiness but superintendents agreed we need to have all students ready for college and career paths post-high school.
    • Filling out the FAFSA is a must for students who are considering going to college. Superintendents underscored the importance of “college and career readiness counselors” to assist with FAFSA completion as well helping students choose the next-right path for them. Students can be surprised by the amount of financial aid they can receive. However, many middle-income students can be disappointed by the lack of financial support they can receive coupled with the true cost of college (inclusive of room and board). Affordability of postsecondary, and debt accrued by college graduates, was expressed as a concern and a possible reason for the decline in college-going.
    • Dual credit is helping develop a richer “college-going culture” but access is uneven across the state and requires dedicated partnerships between Kentucky universities and the Kentucky Career and Technical College System.
    • Kentucky’s economy and our local economies are part of the value-proposition for higher education. Students need to be exposed to the opportunities available to them with higher degrees and credentials. In many areas of Kentucky, students have less exposure and see an economy at home that doesn’t value higher degrees. Education and the economy are linked together!
    • The decline in the state and national college-going rate could be attributed to the expense of higher education and the fact that this generation has faced many struggles, starting with 9/11.
  • Looking Ahead to the Fall:
    • Three things districts in eastern Kentucky are paying attention to: 1) COVID learning slide and summer slide and some type of summer learning, 2) closing learning gaps when students come back in the fall, 3) how will we be better prepared in the fall, NTI was not designed for long-term remote learning
      • Some superintendents are discussing how they build “NTI” lessons into the traditional teaching and learning environment to better prepare teachers and students.
    • Remote learning is critical in a “new normal” but it requires a different mindset for learning and teaching. We need to use time differently in a remote learning environment. Students realize they have “reservoirs of time” to use on “passion projects.” One positive that is coming from remote learning, while counterintuitive, is deeper connections between students and their teachers; there are benefits here we want to acknowledge and strengthen.
    • Lack of access to broadband and devices creates extreme inequities in remote learning. We need to be better prepared and our students and families do as well.

In the end, increasing college-going in Kentucky will require innovative approaches that help us skill-up more Kentuckians and “credential” more Kentuckians for the skills they already possess. Promising practices may include richer and more robust approaches to competency-based credentialing and micro/macro credentials – valuable indicators of skills individually and stackable over time toward a full degree. We look forward to discussing these and other innovations in future Innovations in Education discussions.

Next Up on Innovations:
May 11th – Impact of Education Non-Profits as we Celebrate Kentucky Gives Day
Coming soon – The “future of work” with Kentucky business leaders

You can find previous episodes of Innovations in Education on YouTube. You can also find earlier webcasts specifically related to COVID-19’s impact on education here.

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