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David Hanlin: College acceptance is an area in need of local improvement

October 31, 2012|By DAVID HANLIN

Two recent pieces in The Herald-Mail speak to an important issue in our community. One covered a report issued by the Greater Hagerstown Committee. That report, “2012 College and Career Readiness Report Card, Washington County,” was the result of a year-long effort by the GHC to explore an issue which was of rising concern to that organization.

The committee examined the level of educational attainment of Washington County residents. GHC sees education beyond high school “as a means for personal advancement and to develop a more educated local workforce for new and existing business.” GHC is concerned that in a rapidly changing, increasingly technologically driven economy, our existing workforce is ill-prepared to compete for new businesses.

The implication is that the existing work force must be upgraded. A new high-tech business locating here would have to go to the expensive step of bring in its own highly educated work force. This puts us at a competitive disadvantage. 

Brien Poffenberger added support to the issue in his monthly guest editorial of Oct. 17, “County turns eye toward college and career readiness,” in which he addressed the GHC Report Card. He wrote, “whether the focus is high school graduation, technical certification or a college degree, the job market has never been more insistent that students broaden their education beyond basic skills.”

He described the clear correlation between education, income, personal happiness for the individual and a stronger local economy with increasing employment opportunities for all. The children and young adults of the future will benefit from career training and college programs being implemented to prepare the workforce of the future.

The GHC Report Card paints a picture of a community with a history strongly suggesting that career training and/or college have not been a high priority. Washington County ranks 19th in the state among residents who have at least a bachelor’s degree. The percentage of our citizens age 25 or older having at least a bachelors degree stands at 18.7 percent, far below the statewide average of 35.7 percent.

This advances an issue that has been a concern of the Washington County Public Schools for a number of years. WCPS has initiatives to encourage post-high-school training and makes a great effort to inform students about opportunities. While schools and businesses can promote career training to include college attendance, the decision to pursue these opportunities is ultimately an individual’s decision based upon many factors including motivation and skills.

We all know of families where college has been promoted since birth, but a child chooses not to follow that path. We all know families that do not feel that career training is necessary, yet the child decides to pursue post high school education. A child or young adult must see career training or college as part of their vision for a successful life. This vision is partly cultural, as in the culture of a family or neighborhood, but is also based upon whether the child has the requisite skills at the point where this vision of success is formulated. A child formulates this vision of success for himself at a far earlier age than any of the measures included in the Report Card suggest.

According to the Children’s Reading Foundation, “Students who start school below grade level …have less than a 6 percent chance of attending a four-year college.” Fortunately, the Maryland State Department of Education publishes just such a statistic in its annual report, “Maryland Model for School Readiness.”

Of incoming Washington County kindergarteners, 78 percent are deemed ready to learn. Thus, 78 percent have a good chance of pursuing a four-year college education. However, of the 22 percent who are not ready to learn, Children’s Reading Foundation suggests these children have only a 6 percent chance of attending a four-year college. This fact may be acceptable to some, but while Washington County ranks 19th in the state for adult citizens with bachelor’s degrees, the county ranks 22nd in readiness to learn.

GHC has done our community a great service by drawing attention to this issue. However, the GHC Report Card, in specific, and our community in general, need to work on improving the number of children who start school ready to learn if we are going to achieve the goal of improving college and career readiness, change local culture, and develop a twenty-first century work force. By pursuing the broader effort, our community can best compete for new businesses that bring good paying technologically driven jobs. When this happens many additional jobs will be generated that will benefit all of us.

David Hanlin is a Hagerstown resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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