Last weekend I graduated from high school. Memorable parts include receiving my diploma, throwing my cap and leaving the ceremony in a unified line with my classmates. As I walked out of Sartell High School’s front doors for what may have been the last time, I thought about what defines a meaningful high school experience.
Many of my graduation attendees – teachers, staff, parents, friends and peers – have helped me grow as a person and develop as a student. It was by all means a “village” effort. And I realized the benefits of having my family prioritize school and my parent’s epigram, “work before play.” But as I thought to how advantageous college will be for many of us, I recognize that far too many Minnesota students never have the opportunity to take this next step in life.
Our achievement gap is second-worst in the United States, but the extent of our shortcomings reach nearly every student. For example, I recently learned that in Minnesota, 40 percent of us high school seniors who continue onto college require remedial math or reading. The volume of students who need this support is not a simple disparity, nor can we pinpoint it to a specific geography. For these students who enroll in a public college, we then pay for some of their education twice.
Higher education can be the gateway for many Minnesotans to access a thriving future. It’s an opportunity we all deserve, and need to enter college ready and able.
For most Minnesota students, public schools serve as our common ground – ideally leveling the opportunities playing field. Unfortunately, whether or not a public school propels a kid from adolescence into a college- and career-ready young adult is often dictated by one’s financial or ethnic background.
Thankfully for many Minnesotans, ensuring excellent education is paramount to forming flourishing communities. I like to think that the conversation is evolving. But consider that by 2018, as our state shifts to an increasingly knowledge-based workforce, 70 percent of all Minnesota jobs will require post-secondary education. We have a long way to go.
Higher education is eclectic and most high school graduates should be able to find his or her niche. But to make these opportunities available for more students, we need to grab hold of education reform opportunities that will put more Minnesota students on a post-secondary education trajectory. These schools, from large four-year research institutions to local community and technical colleges, also help sustain a thriving Minnesota economy, culture and way of life. Our collective future is on the line.
In conversations with my peers, along with tutoring and volunteering with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, I see the significant role familial priorities play in a student’s educational success. At the same time, I believe our schools can do more to further – or start to – instill lifelong educational values in students. Every student has the right to a chance to succeed. Access to post-secondary opportunities a prime example.
As a recent graduate, I’m thrilled to close one chapter in my life and open another. It’s an exciting transition, but a privilege for some instead of a right for all. I hope that each and every one of us will do everything we can so that more Minnesota students will have an experience as great as mine.
Ben Davis is a MinnCAN School Reform Blogging Fellow