Officials with the Corvallis School District have been talking a lot about developing many different paths to graduation, and the district’s impressive boost last year in graduation rates suggests it’s moving in the right direction.
But some of those many paths are in need of maintenance — especially those routes that don’t necessarily include a four-year college education.
In a town where college education is the No. 1 industry, it’s no wonder that many students are groomed from an early age to be ready for the rigors of a four-year institution. And don’t misunderstand: For many students, there’s no doubt that’s exactly the right choice.
But it isn’t right for everyone, not even in Corvallis.
Let’s assume that the state of Oregon reaches its so-called 40-40-20 educational goals by the year 2025. You remember this goal: It calls for every adult Oregonian to have a high school education, with 40 percent of those holding at least a four-year degree and another 40 percent holding an associate degree or some other professional certification.
Even if we hit that goal, only 40 percent of adult Oregonians will have a bachelor’s or advanced degree. And even in Corvallis, not every graduate heads off to college. (For example, 74 percent of the 2009 graduates from Corvallis High School and Crescent Valley High School were enrolled in college within 16 months of graduation.)
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It begs the question: What sort of pathways have we prepared for the one in four students who won’t be attending college?
These paths don’t have to be dead ends, not by any means. Increasingly throughout the mid-valley, employers are having a hard time finding workers for jobs that require skills that don’t necessarily require college degrees. Some of these are good-paying jobs — and employers increasingly are willing to train new hires. Employers do ask that our high schools turn out graduates who are willing to work, who will show up on time, who know how to work with others and can do the necessary reading and math. That seems a reasonable request.
As Erin Prince, superintendent of the Corvallis School District, has noted, we have tended to shortchange funding for vocational education in our schools. There’s no doubt that’s part of the issue here.
But it’s not the only factor. Teachers and counselors need a greater understanding of the opportunities available for students who choose not to attend college. In fact, one of the goals of the so-called Pipeline program in Linn County is to help educators get a better grasp of available opportunities — so teachers and counselors there recently toured Linn County businesses to hear that message directly from employers. (The Corvallis School District will be participating in the Pipeline program.)
Other organizations are working on similar efforts. For example, the Training Teens for Tomorrow (T3) program offered by the Corvallis Boys & Girls Club is working to give teenagers some of the skills they need to get a leg up in the job market.
So, some of the pieces are starting to fall into place. With some creativity, and some help from partners, we can start showing students that not every successful path for graduates has college as its final destination.