High School Does Not Go High Enough

At Santa Monica College, a 34,000-student, two-year community college in California, students sometimes sit on the floor to hear professors speak. This is not part of a New Age approach to learning; there aren’t enough seats.

Over the past few years, demand for classes has grown dramatically, while budget cuts have forced the college, along with others in the California system, to reduce course offerings. As a result, according to administrators, nearly every class offered is filled to capacity. Instructors sometimes waive class size limits to allow additional students to enroll, even when that means seating some pupils on the floor. Many other students, however, are turned away, forced to take the classes they need elsewhere or to wait and try again the following semester.

In response, the college devised an unusual solution. It will add more of the most in-demand classes – generally basic courses in English, writing, math and science that are necessary to fulfill graduation requirements or transfer to four-year schools – for an extra price. After state-funded classes fill up, students will have the option to enroll in additional sections only if they are able to pay the full price of what it costs the college to offer those classes. Currently, each class costs students $36 per credit hour. The new classes would be five times that – $180 per credit hour. The new program could start as soon as the upcoming summer and winter sessions, eventually to be expanded to the entire academic year, officials say.

There is something wrong here. Santa Monica should get some points for creativity and good intentions, but too few for the program to merit a passing grade. An institution that enrolls students in a particular course of study has an obligation to make the classes necessary to complete that program available in the standard amount of time, at the prices students have been told to expect to pay. Anything else is clearly a bait-and-switch.

On the surface, the problems facing Santa Monica College are budget cuts and the state’s refusal to raise tuition rates to cover a larger portion of costs. The true issue, however, runs deeper. In today’s economy, an associate’s degree, or maybe even a bachelor’s degree, is the new high school diploma – the minimum level of achievement necessary for most middle-class jobs. Yet community colleges are not equipped to be the new high schools.

Our current educational structure evolved in the early decades of the 20th century to meet that era’s requirements. Primary school taught the basic reading, math and civic skills that everyone needed in order to function in society. Secondary school then offered a path to a middle class that was expanding as American manufacturing did. Both were made available, for free, to all students, by local school districts. Meanwhile, states and private institutions created a university system for those students interested in the relatively few professions that required higher education.

Now a high school diploma alone is inadequate for most careers, but it is still the highest level of education guaranteed to students for free. The result is that many students who try to follow the path to middle-class financial stability that education offers find it clogged with their fellow students, as in the case of Santa Monica College, or prohibitively expensive. The goalposts have moved, yet we haven’t yet changed the rules of the game.

In order to continue to offer students the same opportunities as in the past, we need to reform our system to ensure that students can meet new standards. If an associate’s degree is now the equivalent of a high school diploma, then the public should pay for every willing and qualifying student to get that associate’s degree.

One way to achieve this would be to provide the necessary funding for community colleges to accommodate all interested students, sans tuition. But why have two separate systems to achieve the single objective of a suitable publicly paid education? Another approach, and one that could save a lot of public money and student time, would be to incorporate more higher education into what is now the high school curriculum.

Already, many high schools offer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes, which allow qualified students to study at a college level without leaving high school campuses. In order to apply these classes toward college degrees, however, students must pass expensive exams and then enroll in colleges that offer credit in exchange for high exam scores. These courses, therefore, offer little benefit to those who aren’t college-bound. Furthermore, they generally replace traditional high school courses, rather than following them, meaning that they are available only to those in accelerated programs.

Why not enable students to walk away from graduation with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in hand? Some high schools already permit students to do this, through partnerships with community colleges. Wyoming Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., for example, launched a program last month to allow students to dual-enroll at Grand Rapids Community College in order to earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in five years, with the public school system paying the community college tuition.

Other schools offer fully integrated four- to six-year programs that grant students both degrees. One such school, Bard High School Early College in New York City, allows highly motivated students, selected through an admissions process, to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in four years within the New York City public school system. The program is modeled after the private Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts, which accepts students after 10th or 11th grade and grants an associate’s degree (but not a high school diploma) after four years, and a bachelor’s degree after two additional years.

Another New York City school, developed through a partnership between the public school system, the City University of New York and IBM, offers a six-year technology-focused program, which grants graduates a high school diploma, an associate’s degree and a position “‘first in line’ for a job with IBM and a ticket to the middle class,” as Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it. (1) Chicago recently announced that it too will partner with technology companies, including IBM, to open five new high schools based on the same model next fall. The schools will enroll roughly 1,090 freshmen. “We want to hire them all,” Stanley Litow, IBM’s vice-president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, said of these soon-to-be graduates. “All they need to do is be able to successfully complete a curriculum through Grade 9 to 14 that’s gonna be their ticket to a good-paying job and to the middle class.” (2)

These schools offer a model that every district in the nation could follow. Of course, not every student needs high school through grade 14. Those headed for another four years of schooling in college, for example, likely have no need or desire to spend an additional two years in high school first. But there is no reason high schools cannot be structured to allow both four-year and five- or six-year courses of study, with four-year paths resulting in just a high school diploma and five- or six-year paths resulting in both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or a newly defined credential that would be similar.

As grade 14 replaces grade 12 as the new “ticket to the middle class,” we will also have to address the needs of students for whom an on-campus education isn’t appropriate, particularly those who have already been in the workforce for a number of years. While these students can obtain a General Equivalency Diploma (GED), often quickly and inexpensively, to certify high school level education, there is currently no similar way to demonstrate knowledge equivalent to an associate’s degree. As we work on paving the main road through associate’s degree-level education, we also should build this new parallel route. Those who already have the skills an associate’s degree represents, or who are prepared to acquire those skills on their own, should have an effective means of communicating this to employers and four-year colleges.

There are a lot of obstacles to the system I envision, but they are purely man-made. Local high schools are financed through different mechanisms than are community and four-year colleges, though of course society ends up picking up the tab regardless. Different unions represent faculties at such institutions, different organizations accredit them, and we have established different requirements for credentials and certification of faculty.

All these obstacles can be overcome if we care enough about getting real value for our education dollars, by providing every able and willing student with a 21st century education and credentials to match 21st century life.

Students deserve to get the education they need for today’s world without having to pay an exorbitant price. And they deserve to get that education at desks, not on the floor.

How Does A High School Athletic Program Become Great?

I have often wondered what makes excellence in high school athletics? I grew up in an high school that demanded excellence in all of their sports programs, boys and girls. But, it was not always that way. Actually, when I attended this high school, our school was very average in sports. But, during my senior year, something magical happened. It just seemed like all of our sports teams started to get better and better. We won the state championship that year in both boys basketball and football. The next year, the school won state in football, track, cross country and girls tennis. After that, my high school has never looked back. What happened? How did we go from being average to being great? What was the tipping point? Was it just a great class of kids? Was it the coaching staff? What happened?

Well, before I Get There, Excellence In High School Athletics Is Earned…

By comparison, many years later, I know of a high school that is just the opposite. Academics in the school are great. I really believe the teachers, administrators and coaching staff are terrific. And… so are the kids. But, on the athletic field or court, they just don’t have it. They finish at the bottom of the pack every year in every sport. Why? How can one school set records for the number of state championships, while another school sets records for the number of losing seasons?

I have had the fortune of being involved with both types of athletic programs. You would think that being involved with a winning program is much easier. I would beg to differ. Being involved with a winning program is much tougher than being involved with a losing program. It’s tougher on the administrator, the coach staff, the parents, and especially the players.

Excellence In High School Athletics – Here’s Why It’s Tougher…

Being involved in a winning athletic program demands excellence. Everyone in a winning program knows that winning requires a total commitment to excellence. Winners don’t take shortcuts. Winners come in early and stay late. Winners work-out in the off-season. The community demands winning. The school demands winning. The parents, the school administrators, the coaches… they all demand winning. In order to win… everyone must do their job. It’s just not performance on the field. That is actually the end result of each person’s everyday effort to reach the same goal… to win.

But, how does a high school get to that position? How to you go from bad to average to great. I believe it starts with the school administrators. The administrators of the school must develop this attitude. This attitude must then be demanded of the entire coaching staff. Being average is no longer an option. If the coach is not willing to demand excellence, to put in a 110% effort toward the development of their sports program… they are out. The coaches need to develop their current high school players. And… they need to work with the middle and elementary schools to develop their feeder program. They need to understand… being average is no longer an option. Period.

Excellence In High School Athletics – Parents Are Key…

After you get this attitude down with the coaching staff, the school needs to move on to the parents. A culture change needs to happen. Some people say this takes time. This is total nonsense. Excellence in athletics needs to happen now! The school needs to step up and tell the parents how things are going to change. The school needs to ask the parents for their help. Make no mistake, if the athletic program is going to change for the better, the parents must be a big part of the change. The school needs total buy-in from the families. Everyone needs to understand that winning comes with a price. If everyone is willing to pay the price… winning will happen. The school might not win the state title every year, but more kids from that school will play sports in college, and the school will see a huge positive difference in their athletic program.

To get this all going, it takes one person. One person in authority at the high school needs to stand up and say “enough!!!.” Until that happens, nothing will change. One person needs to stand up. In my school is was the athletic director. In other schools it might be the principal. But, it always starts with one person.

Excellence In High School Athletics – Getting Back To the Losing School…

The losing program just does not have the commitment. It’s that simple. When you go to meetings, it’s always time to hear 100 different excuses why they can’t compete. The culture of winning is just not present. The difference maker, the one person who starts it all… does not exist. In the losing program, no one runs the program. In the losing program, no one is willing to stand up and make a difference. So, what happens… because the school does not demand excellence, that attitude filters down to the coaches, the parents and to the players. If they win great, but if they lose… well, that’s what they expect anyway.

Excellence in high school athletics starts at the top. It’s an attitude. To win you must be willing to pay the price. It’s really that simple.

University Bound: The Non-Traditional Student Version

Not all university bound students are “traditional” students or students who graduate from high school and enter directly into college. Non-traditional students are typically students who are adults and working professionals. They may also be older students who have not yet finished their degree program and earned their initial degree. Whatever the case may be, many non-traditional students want to be university bound, and earn their first degree or an additional degree. You may be considered a “non-traditional student” if you:

Delay initial college enrollment or do not enroll in a college or university in the same calendar year as you finish high school.
Attend a college or university as a “part-time” student for at least part of one academic year.
Work full time (considered to be 35 hours a week or more) while enrolled in college.
Do not have a high school diploma; you may have completed high school with a GED or not completed high school at all.
Are a single parent with dependants or has dependents other than a spouse.
Considered financially independent when determining financial aid eligibility.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) notes that while there is no concrete definition for atypical students, age and part-time enrollment status typically help to identify those students who are non-traditional.

Additionally, if a student fulfills at least one of the previously mentioned criteria, they are likely a non-traditional student. It may be difficult for non-traditional, working students to find the time to attend college. Because of this, many of these non-traditional students can attend classes through an online school. Online education caters to non-traditional students, allowing them to access their coursework 24/7, learn at their own pace, and complete their degree program on their own time.

Because there has been such a surge in university bound non-traditional students, many prestigious ground schools like Harvard, Fordham, Columbia and the State University of New York have implemented programs specifically designed for adult learners and other non-traditional students. These programs allow non-traditional students to take classes with other non-traditional learners or with mainstream students. With programs such as these, university bound non-traditional students have options.

While these ground school programs are extremely beneficial, online education remains the frontrunner in terms of educating university bound non-traditional learners. Because online education is so flexible and accessible, non-traditional learners, who wish to be university bound, can take their classes, complete their course work and study at any time that they wish. Many non-traditional learners are working adults who hold a 9-5 job and want to go back to school to earn their first degree or an additional degree.

The recent surge in online education has allowed many non-traditional learners to go back to school while maintaining their current job and other responsibilities. Like ground schools, online colleges and universities offer university bound students a number of degree program options, financial aid opportunities, and student services.

For hopeful university bound non-traditional students, there are many options for returning to school. University bound non-traditional students should take care in weighing their options before choosing the online or ground school program that is right for them and their future.