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Changing Needs in Education

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 10/28/2013

My youngest daughter graduated from college last June. But ironically, I’m thinking and talking more about education and education policy now than at almost any other time. My head is spinning a bit, with talk of early education, and post-secondary education, and reform to K-12 education, and non-traditional schooling.

But what has really grabbed my attention is the discussion about post-school readiness—for jobs, for post-secondary education, for productive lives.

In early October, the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, one of the Community Foundation’s supporting organizations, hosted another gathering of funders to discuss best practices in work readiness for Vermont students. We heard experts from the state, nonprofit sector, and private sectors. Vermont Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Miller opened up the meeting by saying: “We have a motivation gap. 65% of jobs need post-secondary education. Only 40% of Vermonters go on to some form of post-secondary education. How can we make the value of post-secondary education visible to these young people?”

I’m inspired and pleased that the McClure Foundation continues to lead the way for all of us, and is increasingly focused on this question, and the things that follow from it.

  • How do we prepare Vermont students for successful lives in the future?
  •  How do we help Vermont students be best situated to obtain good jobs?
  • How do we link students, schools, and businesses to make that happen?
  • How do we help students get the post-secondary educations they need?

A week after that event, at the national Grantmakers For Education annual conference, the most compelling workshop (for me) was put on by the Rapides Foundation in central Louisiana. They have invested significant resources in an organization called Career Compass LA, helping high school students understand and get into the right post-secondary education institution—whether it’s a four-year school, two-year school, technical school, trade school, military or something else. Their counselors meet with every single junior and senior in their area and make sure they understand their options and where they are likely to be accepted, and can achieve what they want. During the 2012-13 school year, they worked with 2,815 students. Ninety-eight percent of those students applied to and were accepted by a post-secondary school. Before the program, less than half of the comparable students went to post-secondary school. That’s what I would call success.

According to the Vermont Agency of Education, post-secondary educational enrollment rates for Vermont high schools range from 40.4% to 77.9% (based on three year averages for the years 2009-2011). This is clearly an area where we can do better. But it’s going to require the combined efforts of public education, post-secondary programs, non-profits, businesses, and the government.

Meanwhile, task forces organized by Chambers of Commerce, the Vermont Business Roundtable and others are considering big questions around education in Vermont. The Vermont PreK-16 Council (with funding support from the McClure Foundation) has been working for three years on comprehensive questions surrounding education in the state. And I would be remiss if I did not note the incredible and deep work on early education—birth to five—being led by the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children and its allies.

The issues are complex, and they are critical. Businesses are looking for better trained employees. Students are looking for career and job opportunities. Schools are looking for programs that work. All of us are looking for change.



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