New partnership offers students opportunity to earn AA degree tuition free

Good news for parents who seek to save thousands in higher education expenses and help for students looking to jump-start their college studies. This fall, Bard High School Early College (BHSEC), will offer city high school students the opportunity to enroll in a tuition free college course of study that makes it possible to earn both a high school diploma and an associate in arts degree upon completion of the twelfth grade.

This innovative collaboration between Baltimore City Public Schools and BHSEC was formed based upon the belief that “intellectually curious high school–age students, irrespective of background, are ready and eager to do serious college work, that their ambition should be taken seriously, and that a liberal arts education can effectively engage them and prepare them to excel as the next generation of leaders.”

All eigth through tenth grade students living in Baltimore City may apply. Students accepted into the program will benefit from Bard College’s 13 years of experience running successful early colleges. Their junior and senior years of high school will be spent taking college classes. The college courses are free. Successful students will have as many as 60 transferable college credits, a savings of thousands of dollars in freshman and sophomore year costs.

Bard College joined the early college movement in 1979, when it merged with Simon’s Rock— the nation’s first private, residential college offering a liberal arts and sciences degree program designed for students of high school age. In 2001, the leadership of Bard College partnered with the New York City Department of Education to create the first public Bard High School Early College. Since that time, Bard has built a record of success running early college programs in Ohio, New York, Louisiana and New Jersey.

Core Principals

•Inspire and prepare high school-age students to become leaders across fields through a rigorous course of study that emphasizes critical thinking, writing, inquiry and discourse.

•Increase college access, affordability, and completion for adolescents by allowing them to earn up to two years of tuition-free, transferable Bard College credits and an associate’s degree.

•Bridge the gap between high school and college by bringing the key characteristics of liberal arts college classrooms to public school settings.

Program Overview

•The Curriculum: Bard Early College offers high school courses and core and elective college courses across the liberal arts and sciences, providing students with a strong general education foundation. Courses are small, writing, inquiry and discussion-based seminar classes that help students develop the writing, communication, and analytical and problem-solving skills necessary for success in college and beyond. Bard Early College’s college curriculum is modeled on that of Bard College, including the four-semester Great Books seminar sequence and “Writing and Thinking” workshops that start the academic year.

•Faculty: Bard Early College students are taught by college professors— faculty with terminal degrees in their fields of study— throughout their Bard Early College education. These professors are experts in their fields and active scholars who inspire students through their passion for their subjects. Bard Early College offers students great access to professors, both in and outside of the classroom.

•Student Supports: Bard Early College students receive a number of individualized supports to ensure their smooth transition from high school to college, at Bard Early College and beyond. Support services include faculty office hours, an advisory program, the Learning Commons, which offers professional and peer tutoring a college skills course, and college counseling services to help students transfer their college credits and find a B.A.-granting college that meets their needs.

•College Acceptances and Graduation Rates: More than 95 percent of Bard High School Early College students matriculate to a four-year college after graduating from the early college program, and more than 90 percent of matriculating students complete their bachelor’s degrees. Students can transfer their credits from the early college program to a four-year institution, reducing the time to degree completion. In recent classes, more than a third of students have finished their bachelor’s degrees within three years.

BHSEC Baltimore is currently accepting applications from rising ninth grade and 11th grade students in Baltimore City. The application includes an individual interview and an academic assessment. BHSEC seeks students who demonstrate academic ambition and intellectual curiosity.

To apply, register for an admission session by email: baltimore@bhsec.bard.edu or call 410-941-0189.

Do school uniforms increase academic success?

Recently a teacher used class time to wash, comb and style the hair of a student who frequently came to school with a matted, lint filled mane. Following her good grooming lesson, the teacher proudly posted before and after photographs of the third grader on Facebook. She commented that the child, who was withdrawn and rarely spoke up in class, has shown signs of self-confidence and engagement. The teacher’s decision to groom the girl’s hair sparked heated debate on whether she overstepped her role as an educator.

While most people sided with the teacher, her actions chide us to further consider if there is a link between good grooming and good grades. At first glance it may seem shallow to attribute academic success to a student’s hairstyle, clothing or shoes. However in my observation, children who come to class neat and well cared for, have a better school experience. I am not saying a new dress and a fresh hairdo is a surefire route to better grades. Nevertheless, something as superficial as a child’s appearance can be one of the factors that contribute to a student’s capacity for success.

Anyone who questions the clothing/ learning connection should consider the long, storied history of school uniforms. Education blogger Reshu Mehrotra writes, “When a student dons a school uniform, he/she is ushered into an environment which encourages learning and teaches the value of harmony and equality among every classmate. In many countries uniforms are used to blend the students irrespective of their caste, color, creed and status. In a way, mandatory uniforms are beneficial because children are not condemned for their status nor face teasing over petty issues.”

Britain, an empire, which at one time ruled over most of the world is credited with initiating and proliferating policies that mandated school uniforms. “Uniforms were first worn by orphan children who represented the lower class, then slowly found its way to the [upper classes]” says Mehrotra. “The idea behind standardized dress started in Cambridge around the 16th century. Even though it was met with great opposition by students, school uniform gradually became a status symbol.”

The 1920s were the golden age of English school uniforms. Mehrotra says “A typical uniform had a blazer, shirt, short pants, knee socks, flat heeled shoes and a cap for boys. The boys wore caps decorated with school emblems and dark solid colored blazers. The boys also donned plain colored shirts with ties, belts and short pants. The girls on the other hand wore gymslips a form of dress, which had skirts embedded with shirts. The colors used for the dress were generally in darker shades. Girls, too, had to wear knee length socks and flat heeled shoes.”

Across the pond in America, school uniforms were the exclusive domain of elite private schools until public schools introduced their use as a way to stem violence among students fighting over expensive designer clothes, professional sports wear and athletic shoes. New school uniform guidelines and policies were implemented in 1979 by President Bill Clinton who wanted to stop gang warfare over clothing.

Statistically, reports indicate “only 25 percent of primary schools and around 10 percent of secondary schools in the United States have strictly implemented the uniform policy.”

Although policies requiring students to wear uniforms have not been widely adopted, there are basic dress codes coming into practice. In some public schools, boys must wear trousers, button down shirts, turtleneck, and sweaters; upper schools may require sports coats and ties. After years when students could wear almost anything to class, it is not unusual for girls to be required don skirts of a length determined by the school. Leggings may be allowed but with skirts; shoes with heels may be banned.

The jury is still out on whether school uniforms stem violence, eliminate distractions or level the playing field for students of various economic backgrounds. Clearly, clothing choice should not play a prominent role in grade school education. Yet, the reality says otherwise. The merit of school uniforms is “one of the most debated topics among parents and educators.” Some critics are adamant that uniforms have “no impact on the thought process of a student, nor does it considerably reduce inequality among the masses.” Countering that argument, proponents feel school uniforms and dress codes are an effective way to give students an early introduction to work environments, and re-enforce the discipline necessary to excel in academics.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Teacher combs her student’s hair, ignites heated debate

Blogger Vernessa Cole posted before and after photos of a little girl’s hair to illustrate a post about a teacher who became so distressed by the condition of a student’s unkempt appearance, she decided to comb, brush, remove lint and neatly braid the child’s hair.

The teacher took before and after photos then shared them and her student’s appreciative response online. The post went viral, drawing scores of comments both in support and against the teacher’s in school makeover.

Here is the post and photos (http://bit.ly/1xPyI3b) that created a firestorm of debate, along with a sampling of online comments. I think these remarks speak volumes about old and new school values. I recommend you pay special attention to the change in the child’s demeanor when shown her new, neat, clean hairdo. I am still forming my opinion whether the teacher over-stepped any professional boundaries. However, I do think the I shall share insights from educational experts in next week’s column most compelling issue this post raises is whether there is link between academic success and good grooming? I plan to share insights from educational experts in next week’s column.

Cole writes: What would you do if your child came home with a hair style different from the one you sent them to school with?

Well a teacher recently took her student’s hair into her own hands and posted a picture of the child before and after she styled her hair in the classroom. In the caption she explained that the little girl’s hair looked like “it hadn’t been touched the entire holiday break.” The photo is getting a mixed response. Read the entire post below.

“So one of my students came to school today with her hair full of knots, lint, and ridiculously tangled. It looked like it hadn’t been touched the entire holiday break…so my classroom became a salon. The photo on the left is before, and the right after. It just broke my heart so badly that I refused to let her leave school today the same way she came. When I finished she looked at herself and said “aww so pretty” … the beauty is that she is normally non-verbal. So now I’m crying lol. My day has been made!”

A sampling of social media comments:

•“I don’t see any problem with her hair in the [before] picture.”

•“People just can’t resist any opportunity to bash natural hair styles, that baby’s hair looks fine.”

•“Actually, it looks like there is lint in it. It is tangled and looks as though it needs to be washed”

•“I’d hope the teacher would be spending her time teaching, all this must have taken at least 40 minutes”

•“I can appreciate what the teacher did, but not with shaming a parent into better behavior on social media”

•“The teacher should have gotten permission before posting this online. This is dangerous!”

•“Dangerous??? That’s just silly. Teachers become caretakers, especially for the little ones. And teachers don’t need permission to do many of the things they do that’s in a student’s best interest and removes distractions from learning.”

•“I think the attention should be on why this child isn’t getting proper grooming at home, not condemning the person who helped her.”

•“OK, posting the photos may have been out of line. But, last time I checked teachers didn’t permission to care”

•“When you enroll your child in school most of the time parents sign a wavier giving permission for photographs to be taken of activities and other events during the term. As parents we give the school permission to care for our children’s health and wellness, which in my opinion includes the psychological, social and mental wellbeing. Making a student’s hair neat and presentable certainly seems to qualify for attending to a child’s emotional wellness.”

Here are my comments published on Facebook on the post: To me, the teacher’s actions are a perfect example of old school education. My late mother taught third grade at a school around the corner from our home. I remember her mending, washing and ironing clothes we outgrew and taking them to class on picture day, field trip and special assembly days. She put the clothes, along with a few of those small black dime store combs in a brown A&P supermarket sack. She’d bring the bag back home empty, neatly folded and store it away for next time. She never really talked about why she did this. But, as one who years later worked in school administration I think she recognized the connection between learning and the need for students to feel good about their appearance at school.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because in the words of Epictetus, former slave and Greek Stoic philosopher, “only the educated are free.”

Celebrate the holiday season with classic children’s literature

“Writing a book with a black kid as a hero turned my life around.” —Ezra Jack Keats, 1963

While cleaning out a seldom, used closet, I spied my old steamer trunk. It was brand new years ago, when my mother filled the trunk with everything she thought I needed for my freshman year at Frostburg State College. Its once shiny brass lock has aged to a fine verdigris, a mossy green color found on old copper fixtures. The two sturdy leather handles show signs of wear, but are still functional. Inside the contents are in excellent condition. After college I turned the trunk into a treasure chest and filled it with illustrated books and other keepsakes from my childhood.

I cherish one book over the others, “The good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. My fifth grade teacher and neighbor Mrs. Tilghman, who gave it to me while I was home, quarantined with chicken pox. I have never forgotten her inscription “A good book” she wrote “can be a faithful companion. It stands ready to share its stories, and keep you company when your friends cannot visit. Get well soon, Mrs. Tilghman.

My teacher’s words revealed to me the power of books. Reading helps me unravel life’s mysteries, “travel” the world and entertain myself. This holiday season I ask Education Matters readers to consider giving a book (or two) to a child on your shopping list. The pleasure of reading may stay with a youngster long after new toys have been cast aside and a video game’s novelty fades away. You can turn a book into a truly treasured memento by writing a heartfelt inscription on the title page, and adding the date of the gift.

Knowing the book’s provenance, and the author’s background is an excellent way to make reading the story a learning experience. One of my favorite authors is Ezra Jack Keats. His book “The Snowy Day” was credited with breaking the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing in 1962. His Caldecott Award-winning book (the highest annual honor bestowed upon a story” written and illustrated for children) “is beloved by several generations of readers and has earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature” writes the Huffington Post’s Black Voices.

Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob Katz to Jewish immigrant parents in 1916. His biography written by Dean Engel and Florence Freedman states: “He became interested in art at any early age. His mother encouraged Keats’ talent, but his father seemed only to criticize Keats’ ability. It was thought the father feared his son would never earn a living as an artist. However, after his dad passed away Keats learned his dad was truly proud of his son’s accomplishments.

In his Caldecott Medal speech in 1963, Keats shared the experience of sorting through his dad’s papers and discovering how his father really felt. “I found myself staring deep into his secret feelings. There in his wallet were worn and tattered newspaper clippings of the notices of the awards I had won. My silent admirer and supplier, he had been torn between his dread of my leading a life of hardship and his real pride in my work.”

Although Keats won three scholarships to art school, he was unable to attend. After his father’s death he worked to support his family by day and took art classes at night. Keats’ professional career began at Fawcett Publications, illustrating backgrounds for the Captain Marvel comic strip.

“My Dog is Lost,” Keats’ first attempt at authoring a children’s book, was published in 1960. The main character is a Puerto Rican boy named Juanito who has lost his dog in New York where he meets children from different sections of New York such as Chinatown and Little Italy.

Next, Keats who was innovative in his use of minority children as central characters decided to create a book featuring a little boy named Peter, who was inspired by an article he clipped from Life magazine in 1940. This decision became in his words the “experience that turned my life around—-working on a book with a black kid as the hero.”

None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids— except for token blacks in the background. My book, [The Snowy Day] would have him there simply because he should have been there all along. Peter appears in six more books growing from a small boy in The Snowy Day to adolescent in “Pet Show.”

In 1983, Ezra Jack Keats died from a heart attack, leaving the world a wonderful collection of beautiful books to read and share with a new generation of children.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because in the words of Epictetus, former slave and Greek Stoic philosopher “only the educated are free.”

EDUCATION MATTERS: A Mother’s Love builds academic confidence

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” —Picasso

Picasso’s observation is the guiding philosophy of A Mother’s Love, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing art-based educational programs and experiences to troubled students.

“I have always loved this quote by Picasso,” says Alex Benitez, a professional artist. For the past year he has worked with a group of teenagers on probation after their first encounter with the juvenile system for anger or school disciplinary issues.

“It seems that most of us as adults lose the innocence and playfulness that we have as kids, allowing this supposed “necessary” transition to take place by default. To me, this hampers a lot of areas of our lives. Among them, creative thinking, emotional intelligence and the basic ability to enjoy the simple things in life. This is especially true for me as an artist, since I regularly search for that inner child to help me create some of the crazy things my mind allows me to put into the canvas.

With the kids I work with, it probably happens the other way around. They skim over the childhood phase and jump right into adulthood, complete with all the problems, responsibilities and heartaches that come with it. This is especially detrimental to their development as members of society, given the fact that they are ill-equipped to manage all these situations and the only outcome seems to be getting into trouble.”

Alex, using initials to protect the privacy of minor students writes:

As soon as you meet S., you are clearly made aware of a fact: “Nobody messes with S.” She is a very strong-willed girl, with a huge chip on her shoulder. The interesting juxtaposition is how sweet she can be as well. She could be the classic product of her environment, facing tough situations at an early age, forcing her to adopt this “tough girl” facade.

Her best friend is an iPhone, which she carefully decorated with letters and hearts during one of our craft projects. As many teenagers today, the connection with that little device is deep, making you wonder what she would do without it. Could this be a result of the lack of attention parents give these kids? Is it an escape? A necessity? Or js it a sign of the times? What effect is this having on her social skills and how is it molding her personality?

One day, as I was listening to the ever-entertaining conversations the girls’ group has, I asked S. (within the context of what she was saying) “who DO you trust then?”, to which she responded unequivocally: “I only trust myself.” This answer resonated loud within me. Is this alchemy of factors creating a sense of alienation within this girl? Did she mean to answer? I just trust myself AND my smart phone? Is this generation substituting personal relations with virtual ones? Maybe living in the cybernetic world feels better than the real one.

Besides this bit of faux-psychological analysis I made in my mind, S. is in fact a very smart girl. She also showed to be very creative with the art projects, probably one of the best. The combination of strong will and brains are a powerful one if put to good use. She said to me that she wants to be a nurse after she graduates from high school. The problem is she has repeated 8th grade twice. Who and how are we failing her?”

These compelling questions demand answers. Ignoring the needs of children, turning a blind eye to their dreams, wishes, and difficult circumstances will diminish the lives of us all.

There is a final opportunity to view the painting “S” and all the original artwork inspired by the humanity of these youngsters. Considered a rising talent, Alex Benitez’s joyful, color rich paintings have been shown and sold art at galleries in Miami, New York, and San Juan. The closing reception for his exhibit, “The Art of Alex: A Retrospective of My Year with the Kids@ Juvenile Services” is this Saturday, December 6, from 6 to 9 pm, at the Gallery at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 811 Cathedral Street, Baltimore MD 21201. The event is free and open to the public.

Jayne Hopson writes about educational matters because in the words of Epictetus, former slave and Greek Stoic philosopher “only the educated are free”.

Art inspires troubled students: Part II

— The primary mission of our criminal justice system is to protect the public’s safety. Accomplishing this goal leaves little room for implementing programs designed to mend and revitalize the lives of individuals caught in the prison system’s maze of bureaucratic mandates. This is especially troublesome for juvenile offenders, who are themselves often the innocent victims of violence, dysfunctional households and poverty. Kids who get into trouble with the law are not just at the mercy of the juvenile justice system. Sadly, the needs, hopes and dreams of these children are often ignored by a society lacking resolve to ensure every child has the opportunity to grow up feeling loved, wanted and protected.

Last week Education Matters began a series of articles about A Mother’s Love (AML) a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing art-based educational programs and experiences to students at their first encounter with the juvenile justice system. Using subjects like art, music and creative writing, AML’s goal is to reach beyond the false bravado to soften tough exteriors of children forced to fend for themselves to survive and replace trouble-making activities with the academic confidence they will need to become productive, self-sufficient adults.

Last year, artist Alex Benitez joined AML and began working with Baltimore teenagers on probation resulting from social, anger or school disciplinary issues. Alex’s paintings have sold in galleries in Miami, New York, San Juan and Baltimore. He brings the kind of energy, kindness and caring to his students needed to remove their distrust of authority and dissipate the malaise that settles over children who have witnessed life’s dark side. If you read carefully Alex’s heart-rending stories and look closely at the original artwork it inspired, you will be moved by the humanity of children whose futures rest on our resolve to free them from the classroom to prison pipeline. Alex, using initials to protect the privacy of minor students writes:

When I first heard about a boy who was into arts and would like to be in the program, I was very excited. The day B. walked in the room, I saw this 17-year-old kid with the build of a linebacker and the face of a baby. As he sat down, he placed his beat up backpack on the table and pulled out a pencil and a notebook and started to draw.

We immediately bonded talking of his sketches and quickly started working on projects together. Even though we enjoyed working together, I could always see pain in his eyes. A sort of pain that you might be used to see on a grown man, not in a teenager who is just starting at life. We never really talked much at class, it was like if we communicated through the work we were doing. There was so much being said through our mutual silence and concentration, that since he seemed to like it that way, I went along.

As I was heading to class one day, I see B. come out fuming from the office of his parole officer. As I walk past her (his parole officer), she looks at me and says: “good luck today.” As we sat down in the room, I told B. that we didn’t have to do anything today, but just talk. I was surprised when he started telling me the heartbreaking story of how his mother gave him up when he was born and grew up with his aunt. He had to take care of his 9 brothers and sisters. He also shared why he was on probation this time. It was right then when I understood just how tough some of these kids have it and that it’s not just about offering knowledge and support, but to help provide a “blanket” of support at all levels.

Then suddenly, B. stopped going to class. The counselor told me that he was going to enter a new type of therapy, including medication, at a treatment facility. I miss having class with B. The other day, one of the judges emailed me to tell me that B. was doing better and had told him to say hi to me.”

Next week: Student “C” is profiled

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because in the words of Epictetus, former slave and Greek Stoic philosopher “only the educated are free.”

A Mother’s Love: Art inspires troubled students

I have a confession to make. Never once in the nine years I have written Education Matters has this column touched on the unique academic needs and challenges of grade school students in the juvenile justice system.

Although, I knew this was an important subject, affecting hundreds of children and their families, my avoidance of this subject was conscious and deliberate. Why?— As a mother and veteran educational advocate, I had seen enough of the classroom-to-prison pipeline to know my sense of helplessness would break my spirit if I looked too deeply into the lives of children caught up in a system that frequently becomes a stepping stone to adult incarceration— until now!

The primary goal of our criminal justice system is to protect the public’s safety. There is little room for the creation and implementation of innovative programs designed to touch the humanity of children caught in its web of bureaucratic mandates. Juvenile offenders, themselves often the victims of crimes, are at the mercy of a society lacking the will and resources to ensure that every child grows up feeling loved, wanted and protected from life’s harsh realities.

Under these circumstances, Education Matters saw no hope for making any positive academic changes for children whose rights and freedom are under the control of juvenile justice system.

However, recently I became aware of A Mother’s Love (AML), a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing expanded educational experiences to students at their first encounter with the juvenile justice system.

The organization’s name not only conveys what it seeks to offer but its work encourages others to share with troubled kids that primal force of nature known as a mother’s love.

Using subjects like art, music and creative writing, AML’s goal is to remove the false bravado, soften tough exteriors and replace trouble-making activities with academic confidence so that these students can grow into productive, self-sufficient adults.

This week, bolstered by access to AML’s administrators, its Board of Trustees, student case managers and Department of Juvenile Justice Service judges, Education Matters begins a series of articles about the hope a mother’s love always inspires.

In keeping with the Baltimore Time’s mission, I start with a positive story about a positive person.

A little over a year ago artist Alex Benitez, through AML’s art-based programming began working with Baltimore teenagers on probation resulting from social, anger or disciplinary issues.

Benitez’s, whose paintings have sold in galleries in Miami; New York; San Juan; and Baltimore, brings the kind of energy, kindness and caring to his students that breaks down barriers of distrust of authority and dissipates the malaise that settles over troubled children who have seen and lived with the dark side of life.

Now, the brand new father of a beautiful baby girl, Benitez is keenly aware that raising a child properly is a huge, precious responsibility.

In working with his students he has learned firsthand that parenting is a task not everyone is equipped to handle.

“Most of these children have gone through very traumatic experiences and in order to survive, quickly become a product of their environment” said Benitez. “We all know the reasons. Poor parenting, lack of positive role models [and a] broken school system. Yet, in the end, for me it’s all about what they don’t get— love and attention. The question is, how do we as a society help them?” stay on the correct path?”

Inspired by time spent getting to know his students, Benitez created a collection of paintings to capture on canvas how the lives of these children have impacted his life and his art.

Last weekend, he held an exhibit here in Baltimore inspired by the dreams, wishes and thoughts of his students. The works are stunning, thought-provoking, color drenched images, connected in their disconnectedness, and like his students require that you to give them the attention they deserve.

“Hopefully, the images are able to capture the complex and fascinating nature of their personalities and convey how much this experience has changed me as a person” said Benitez. “I also wish to wake up a collective realization of where we are as a city and as a society in hopes of answering one question: What are we doing to help our troubled youth?”

Next Week: Student stories and the artwork they inspired.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because in the words of Epictetus, former slave and Greek Stoic philosopher “only the educated are free.”

Making college completion mandatory, Part II

Undereducated, poor and middle class high school graduates are the cannon fodder of higher education. Each year, colleges routinely accept large numbers of students, knowing most will not make it to the finish line. I believe it is time to hold colleges and universities more accountable to the students they accept.

A recent Pew Research survey finds that less than one out of three people aged 25 to 32 have earned a four year college degree. The percentage is even lower for black and minority students. These findings are puzzling. At a time when an increasing number of students are attending college, the study shows there has been a dramatic drop in the four-year graduation rate. In other words more kids are going to college, but fewer are finishing.

What accounts for this growing disparity, who is responsible and why as a society we must identify and implement steps to reverse the trend?

To build my case for “mandatory four-year college graduation” I begin by addressing why a college education matters. The Pew study offers an alarming fact: “The education gap is higher than any other time in history. Young college graduates are ahead on virtually every measure of economic well-being, earning an eye-popping $17,500 more per year than those with only a high school diploma.”

“Poverty” the researchers found “is one of the biggest threats to young people without college degrees. Nearly a one out of four (22 percent) of young people ages 25 to 32 without a college degree live in poverty today, whereas only six percent (less than-one- out-of-ten) of the college-educated fall into this camp.”

The rising cost of earning a degree accounts for the reason many students do not complete their studies. Without question higher education is expensive, but the study shows it is a good investment.

According to the Pew study, “It’s more costly not to have a college education than ever before. The typical high school graduate’s earnings dropped by more than $3,000, from $31,384 in 1965 to $28,000 in 2013. The Pew study concludes its report with a thought-provoking list of questions and few, long-term, definitive answers.

“How much is this trend going to cost America as a nation? It’s too early to say for sure, but young adult underemployment, which is directly linked to under education, is already costing $25 billion a year, largely because of the lost tax revenue.”

There are a host of other costs associated with the challenge of accommodating large numbers of under educated, under employed citizens. Should society be prepared “to see increased rates of alcoholism and substance abuse? Broken relationships? Depression? The long list of physical ailments that go along with the stress of not being able to gain and keep a financial foothold?”

There are a several of factors responsible for the decreasing number of students earning four-year degrees. In my opinion the root cause of this failure rests within the broad spectrum of our educational system. Fueled by an enormous money grab that pours billions and billions in education reform dollars into a broken system that yields little success and even less accountability. The result, our grade schools fail to adequately prepare far too many high school graduates to meet the academic demands of college level work.

There are billions more in borrowed money easily available to help finance a college education for students who are not remotely capable of completing. With all that money on the table, higher education finds itself unable to resist accepting kids they know have little hope of earning a degree in four years, or any other length of time.

After nine years of writing about school reform measures, I see little evidence public schools are doing a better job of educating our children. In fact, the Pew reports offers proof the rate of failure is increasing. Harnessing my frustration with the public school system, I am shifting my focus to ways to eliminating higher education’s financial incentives to accept poorly prepared students. Given their tremendous resources my hope is colleges will take on more responsibility for helping grade students get ready to complete their college degrees.

Since I raised this issue last week I have received feedback that merits further discussion. I shall explain in a future column a legitimate basis for these recommendations. Reader feedback is particularly welcome on the subject of mandatory four-year college graduation.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

Making the case for mandatory college graduation

After the housing industry, American’s colleges and universities are collectively the country’s second largest business. A closer look behind higher education’s ivy-covered walls reveals how colleges are kept afloat by practices as mercenary as housing’s sub-prime lending practices that nearly destroyed the US economy in 2008.

Like virtually all profit making organizations, colleges rely upon selective, sometimes deceptive marketing methods to bolster the value and prestige of degrees earned by students who complete their studies in 4 years. The operative word is “complete” because from the student’s point of view completion, not acceptance is what should drive the decision to select a college.

Each year US News and World Report, which calls itself the “nation’s leading news service provider of information that improves the quality of life of its readers” publishes a number of ratings that purports to rank the best American colleges.

The popularity of the online magazine’s rankings is undisputed. The first day its 2014 report was released brought a whopping 2.6 million unique visitors to its website and 18.9 million page views in a single day. Families wrestling with finding a college that best meets their child’s academic needs and aspirations should be aware this report may not be as impartial as it appears.

For example, colleges routinely use acceptance rates to drive up their ranking and impress upon the public the value of a degree earned from its institution. The clear message to prospective families is, many apply, but only accept a select few are accepted. According to the US News and World Report Stanford is America’s most selective college. For every 100 students who apply only 5.7 are offered acceptance, statistically speaking. Harvard comes in a close second at 5.8, Columbia and Yale are tied at 6.9 each and Princeton rounds out the top five with a 7.4 acceptance rate.

But, what is ROI (return on investment) for low acceptance rates? This kind of ranking is a ruthless way to distract attention away from its dismal back end statistics. Colleges know the same parents seeking to bask in the glow of their child gaining admission to a highly selective, cream of the crop school, would be put off by its low graduation rates. In my opinion the most impressive ranking is a list of colleges with highest 4 year graduation rate. This ranking is conspicuously absent from the report’s main pages; it is only found by a key words web search.

Apparently, there is no evidence exclusive acceptance has any value other than bragging rights that your kid got in a “good” school. Need proof there is no correlation between selective acceptance and actually earning a degree? Only one college (Columbia) ranked the third most selective university is the only school in the top 25 ranking of schools with the highest 4 year graduation rates. Acceptance is a necessary first step, but the bottom line is no school grants degrees just for gaining admittance.

If you are planning to send your child to a state college you may think these practices do affect your family? You would be mistaken. The disparity between college acceptance and graduation rates exposes one of higher education’s shadiest practices. To increase revenue all colleges artificially brandish their academic standing by routinely promoting a useless, misleading measure of success: a low, exclusive acceptance rate instead of the truest indicator value of its degrees, the 4 year graduation rate.

This practice is in part responsible for the ever increasing cost of a college education, and at the same time shields schools from any meaningful accountability.

But, what if the parents and students who bear the burden of high tuition and crushing debt demanded that colleges be responsible for ensuring the students it accepts were required to graduate from their school in four years. Basically, what I purpose is making college acceptance linked to mandatory graduation.

This idea is not as far-fetched and radical as it may first sound. Consider how military service functions as a viable vocational path for young men and women. In a process that mirrors colleges and universities, the army recruits and offers acceptance to people it believes can be trained and educated to become successful soldiers.

Like college signing up to join the armed forces is optional, but completing the terms of service is not. That, I believe is where the lack of higher education’s institutional accountability serves its needs at the expense of thousands of students who are accepted, take out loans, attend classes for one or two semesters but for variety of reasons fail to make it to the finish line.

Next week: Why higher education accountability matters to every member of our society.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes each week about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”

A doctoral candidate shares her successful homeschooling experience

Rachel Coleman is a remarkable young woman. Upon completion of high school she was accepted to Ball State University with a full tuition scholarship, graduated with highest honors in three years, and then earned a master’s degree. Currently, she is Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, where she is completing her doctorate.

There is another thing that makes Rachel’s academic journey noteworthy: she was homeschooled from kindergarten straight through high school. “In the eight years since I graduated from high school” says Rachel, “I’ve had time to think about the home-school education I received and what parts of it were most successful.”

While it is not hard to find parents willing to speak on their home-schooling know-how and experiences, a thoughtful recollection by a former homeschooled student is rare. Based on her experience, the soon to be Dr. Rachel Coleman shares in her own words six ways her parents made home-schooling a successful, enriching experience:

  1. They valued learning— Fostering an internal love of learning is probably the most important thing home-school parents can do. We children knew from a very young age that my parents placed a great deal of importance on learning. My parents took us to museum after museum and historical site after historical site. We were interested because they were interested, and that interest rubbed off.
  2. They made education hands-on— Up through middle school, my mother taught history to all of us children together. She would read historical fiction aloud, but that was only to start. She also checked out books full of historical crafts and activities from the library. We made a sarcophagus, assembled a Viking ship, and played at Greek gods and goddesses. History was full of adventure and discovery.

As I grew older and the subjects became more advanced, my learning became more textbook-based and less hands-on. Yet those early years fostered a love of learning and kept my active childhood self-interested and engaged.

  1. They read to us— My parents read to us children constantly. Even before we were school-aged, Mom read us book after book after book. When we begged for her to read another book, or for her to read the same book again, she rarely turned us down. Once we were older she read chapter books aloud to us, choosing works of historical fiction and integrating her reading schedule with our history curriculum. My father read aloud to us too, and I have many fond memories of family reading time after supper on winter evenings. My parents created a culture where reading was not a burden or a chore but rather a favored pastime.
  2. They taught us how to write— Over the years I have become more and more appreciative of my parents’ dedication in teaching us how to write. For a few years, my mother used materials from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. At the time, I found the program nitpicky. Today, I can see how much it benefited me. My mother believed that the key to improvement was practice, and practice we did! During our middle school and high school years my mother had us write timed essays. She would sit us down with paper and pencil, give us a prompt, and tell us we had forty-five minutes to write.
  3. They involved us in extracurricular clubs— Extracurricular clubs provide opportunities for gaining confidence, creating new social networks, and broadening both interests and skills. Throughout high school, I participated in debate through the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). I learned about logical fallacies and gained experience with research. Participating in debate also gave me confidence in myself and provided me with a social outlet. Whether it is NCFCA debate, 4H or a robotics club, club activities like these have a lot to offer.
  4. They were organized— My mother kept careful records of our educational progress. At the beginning of each year she created an educational plan for each of us, complete with what we were going to study for each subject area, and at the end of each year she edited that as needed and collected samples of our work to create a portfolio for each of us. This was not required by state law but my mother wanted to have a record of our education. This was especially helpful to her when creating my high school transcript.

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about educational matters because “only the educated are free.”