College readiness starts in preschool

College readiness starts in preschool, concludes a report by an American Association of State Colleges and Universities task force. To prepare young people for higher education, colleges and universities should work with local schools and community partners to reach children of all ages, the task force recommends.

Academic readiness is a necessary condition for college success, but it is not sufficient. Students must also have the necessary personal characteristics—such as motivation, self-efficacy and study skills—and the social support to persevere when challenges could lead them to give up.

“Quality preschool is the single most important factor in preparing at-risk students for elementary school,” according to the report. Teaching basic math concepts and developing children’s language skills is “critically important.”

In elementary school, reading and mathematics are both key to continued school success. Students who are not reading at grade level by third grade are likely to be academically disadvantaged throughout the rest of their education. As children get into their adolescent years, skill in mathematics is particularly important regardless of the major that one will pursue in college.

High schools need “timely and useful” feedback on how their graduates are doing in college, the report recommends. In addition, high school students should have access to dual-credit programs.

U.S. academic achievement is “on a downward trajectory” compared to other countries, the task force warned. “Our institutions are devoting too many resources to remedial education, and despite this, graduation rates are far below what the country needs, even when measured after six years rather than the traditional four; and too many students are leaving our institutions without degrees but with significant debt.”

Few Latinos are college graduates

The Latino graduation rate is less than half the national average, concludes a report by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center. In 2009 only 19.2 percent of Latinos 25 to 34 years old had earned a two- or four-year degree, compared with a 41 percent college completion rate for all young Americans.

The College Completion Agenda Progress Report 2011: Latino Edition (pdf) was released last week at an event at Miami Dade College. The report was developed in collaboration with the National Council of La Raza and Excelencia in Education.

Increasing Latino college completion starts by making preschool available to low-income families, the report said. It also called for improving middle- and high-school counseling, providing more need-based grant money, and simplifying the financial-aid system.

“Our nation will not become No. 1 again in college completion unless we commit ourselves to giving these students the support they need to achieve their full potential,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, in a statement. “This report is a call to action.”

The study includes an interactive web site on how Latinos are doing in meeting College Board’s College Completion Agenda,  which aims for 55 percent of young Americans to hold an associate degree or higher by 2025.

Latino students are the largest minority group in K-12 schools. In recent years, college enrollment has surged for Latinos, but most enroll in community colleges, which have low graduation rates.

CCs train more pre-K teachers

Community colleges are expanding associate degree programs for pre-K teachers, reports Community College Week. Demand is very high, but pay remains low.

In Washington state, Edmonds Community College‘s early childhood education students can find jobs with a one-year certificate or an associate of technical arts degree. Some earn an associate of arts degree and transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s in education.

. . . “We see a lot of people who have been working with children for 20 years, and they say it’s time for them to get a degree,” (Connie) Schatz said. “There is no question that employers are looking for a minimum of a credential or an associate degree. People who are looking to work in leadership positions really need a bachelor’s degree. The real challenge is to provide pathways. We need to have entry at all levels.”

In Pennsylvania, half of early childhood education students at Northampton Community College take classes online. Many are working mothers or live in rural areas. About half the students go on to a four-year college.

NCC has designed a pathway that lets students earn a certificate en route to an associate degree.

Only highly skilled teachers can help disadvantaged children catch up before they start school, say early-childhood education advocates.  Pre-kindergarten teachers should need a bachelor’s degree and a state license, just like K-12 teachers, concludes a New America Foundation Report issued last year.

Head Start now requires an associate degree for most teachers and a bachelor’s for lead teachers. By 2012, half of Head Start teachers will need a four-year degree.

As states struggle to balance budgets, it’s not likely preschools will get more funding to raise salaries for college-educated teachers.