Earlier this month, the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education met to discuss, among other things, the low college-going rate of West Virginia’s high school graduates. We are down to fewer than 46% of public high school graduates going on to college.
National averages aren’t easy to come by, but pre-pandemic, the national average for 2019 high school graduates who enrolled immediately into a college was 66%.
Here in the Mountain State, the rate for 2021 graduates is even lower than that for 2020 graduates.
“We’re seeing less than 1 in 4 students continuing in post-secondary education,” State Higher Education Policy Commission Director of Research and Analysis Zornitsa Georgieva told WV MetroNews.
“We want to find out are there obstacles or barriers that they’re experiencing that maybe prevents them from taking that extra step and we’re hoping that with the rich information we can get from the survey we can identify areas we can support and provide opportunities for them,” Georgieva said.
Any West Virginian could name half-a-dozen barriers without needing rich data. Students have not been convinced of the value of education, let alone one they might have to go into debt to receive. Our routinely dead last K-12 public education system is not preparing them for college. Socio-cultural challenges abound.
If government officials are going to do anything about it, they can start by dramatically improving the education (and the experience with a formal learning environment) these potential college students receive while they are still in the public system. Then, they can look for ways to make college educations more affordable — and more relevant.
Engage students in partnerships with employers, who can talk to them about what kind of training and education they need for the good jobs available here; and help them pay for it. Oh, and acknowledge how unnecessary most of the traditional college experience seems to kids who have grown up understanding the urgency behind just getting a paycheck.
Yes, education and training past high school can lead to a more financially secure future and positive career experience. If higher education officials can’t convince students of that, they’d better be honest with themselves about why.