The new high school
Wed Oct 10, 12:20 AM ET
A generation ago, a high school diploma was a ticket to America's middle class. Today, that ticket is far less likely to guarantee admission.
Among the numbers that tell the story: In the 1970s, workers with college degrees earned 36% more on average than those with high school degrees. Now that gap is 76%.
Hundreds of jobs that pay salaries high enough to qualify as middle class, such as bank tellers and teachers' aides, require at least a two-year degree. Like it or not, college has become the new high school.
This reality is why forward-thinking educators and government officials are looking for ways to ensure that more high school graduates go on to get associate, if not bachelor's, degrees. That's especially important for poor and minority students at risk of falling even farther behind and becoming part of a permanent underclass.
Some of the best ideas for promoting post-secondary education are coming from state leaders and a new book, Minding the Gap, that lays out an initiative by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These proposals include:
* Making community college tuition free. Massachusetts Gov. tuition-free community college as part of a larger package that includes universal preschool and longer academic days. Expensive, yes, but a wise investment.recently proposed
* Boosting college applications. Maine legislators are considering requiring all students to complete at least one college application. It sounds odd, but individual high schools have tried this with positive results. Simply applying to college can open students' eyes to opportunities and scholarships they might not otherwise know exist.
* Giving students a chance toin high school. Students in better-off schools have long been able to earn college credits through Advanced Placement courses. New experiments, called early college, expand on that. At Harbor Teacher Preparatory Academy outside , most of the recent graduates walked away with both a high school diploma and enough credits to give them a head start in college.
By 2012, labor-market economist Anthony Carnevale predicts a surplus of 3 million workers with only high school degrees and a shortage of 7 million workers for jobs that require some college training. The time to address that gap is now.