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College applications to become high school graduation requirement
Gendron announces move to increase equality of access to higher education
October 19, 2007
CLARIFICATION: Commissioner Gendron’s proposed amended language on diploma rules would require students to complete a college application, but not to submit one. The requirement is the same as that contained in the Resolve (LD 1040) passed by the Legislature. The commissioner’s proposal is consistent with -- and does not go beyond -- the Resolve.
AUGUSTA– Mike Moran admits he didn’t have the best high school grades, graduating near the bottom of his class. When it came time to look to make plans for his future he didn’t think that college was the place for him. But he was encouraged to fill out a college application and now is excelling at Southern Maine Community College and has even made the dean’s list.
“My parents pushed me to fill out just one application and I was as shocked as anyone when I found out I was accepted and going to college,” said Moran, now a second-year student at Southern Maine Community College. “I know a lot of people who didn’t have someone pushing them to fill out the application, so I think it is a good thing to develop a statewide system to help more kids make the leap.”
There is an unknown number of students like Moran in Maine every year. Only about half of Maine’s high school graduates go on to college – and that’s not enough according to state officials.
Spurred by legislation put forward by House Speaker Glenn Cummings, Commissioner Susan A. Gendron outlined her plans at South Portland High School on Friday to make the completion of an application to a post-secondary institution a requirement for graduation. Students would be required to complete an application, but not required to submit it. While the requirement would affect students in the 2009 graduating class, Gendron urged schools to implement it this year.
The aim is to raise aspirations of all students and promote equality of opportunity for students who may not otherwise be encouraged to pursue training after high school. Gendron noted that this is the time of year students are beginning the college application process, and that just this week Maine sophomores and juniors took the PSAT/NMSQT, which is considered preparation for the SAT, and a requirement of many colleges as part of the application process.
“Filling out a college application is a critical component to helping students succeed,” Gendron said. She noted that while 85 percent of high school students say they will go on to college, the percentage of students that actually go is much smaller.
The Maine Compact for Higher Education has estimated that in Maine, for every 100 students that begin high school, 78 will graduate high school four years later. Of those 78 students, only 39 will go directly on to college in the fall after they graduate from high school. Of those 39 students only 25 will earn a 2- or 4- year degree within the next 3 or 6 years. The idea behind the policy is that if more students will enter higher education, more students will ultimately gain training or earn a degree.
Gendron said she will include language requiring the college application for graduation into the Department’s amendments to its rules on graduation requirements. The rules will be reviewed by the Legislature in January, 2008.
“We need to alter the dynamic,” said Cummings. “For too long, too many Mainers have believed that college was not for them and that they could get by with out it. We need to change that culture and we need to support students in their efforts at the highest possible levels. We need to make all of Maine’s students realize that they can be, if they choose to be, college material.”
Speaker Cummings noted that when he was attending high school students were conscious from an early age of who would be attending college and who would not. Cummings stressed that this attitude was outdated in a world that requires an ever greater level of education and training for even the most basic jobs. Referencing recent reports that many businesses place a premium on finding a labor pool with enough skilled workers, Cummings linked the policy to Maine’s economic development efforts.
One of the students on hand for the announcement, Stephanie Hutchinson, remarked that in high school she never excelled in traditional classes, but she has found success at a community college where she has taken courses in business and electrical engineering.
“In high school I was a C student,” said Hutchinson, also a second-year student at SMCC. “I was more into the technical stuff, the other classes just didn’t interest me and I didn’t see myself being successful in college. But I have found out that college is way more than just English class. I’m learning hands-on skills I can use.”
Cummings picked up the idea after it was implemented by Poland Regional High School in 2003. Derek Pierce, the principal at Poland Regional High School at the time, noted that it had a very positive effect on students there, with college attendance rates more than doubling.
“Just think of all of the assignments you did in high school,” said Pierce, who is now the principal at Casco Bay Expeditionary High School. “Now imagine an assignment that actually could make a difference in where you are in life 20 years later. Filling out a college application is a small step in getting a student to attend college, but it is an important one.”
He noted that even for students who do not go on to college, the skills gained in filling out the application are useful in applying for jobs or other programs. All use a similar process that includes getting references, gathering information, and a written statement of personal goals.
Jeanne Crocker, principal of South Portland High School, applauded the measure, saying it will be one more tool to encourage and support students in applying to college.
“Five years ago, 65 percent of our students went on to post-secondary education,” Crocker said. “Through many different strategies, we are now consistently at 85 to 87 percent.” She credited a strong partnership with the Maine Community College System; requiring students to develop a post-graduation plan by working one-on-one with a faculty or staff person at the school; student visits to college campuses during their sophomore year; and other efforts. Gendron said South Portland High School’s success in raising college aspirations was the reason she chose the school for the press conference.
For information contact David Connerty-Marin, Director of Communications, Department of Education, 624-6880/831-3313
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