Earlier this month, the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education met to discuss, among other things, the low college attendance rate of West Virginia high school graduates. Less than 46% of public high school graduates go on to college.
National averages aren’t easy to find, but before the pandemic, the national average for 2019 high school graduates who enrolled immediately in college was 66%.
Here in the Mountain State, the rate of 2021 graduates is even lower than that of 2020 graduates.
“We find that less than one in four students go on to post-secondary education,” Zornitsa Georgieva, director of research and analysis for the state Higher Education Policy Commission, told WV MetroNews.
“We want to know if there are any obstacles or barriers they are facing that are perhaps preventing them from taking that extra step and we hope that with the rich information we can get from the survey, we can identify the areas we can support and provide opportunities for them,” Georgiava said.
Any West Virginian could name half a dozen obstacles without needing rich data. Students have not been convinced of the value of education, let alone that they might have to go into debt to receive it. Our latest K-12 public education system does not prepare them for college. Socio-cultural challenges abound.
If government officials want to do something about this, they can start by dramatically improving the education (and experience with a formal learning environment) these potential students receive while they are still in the public system. Then they can look for ways to make a college education more affordable and relevant.
Engage students in partnerships with employers, who can tell them about the kind of training and education they need for the good jobs available here; and help them pay. Oh, and recognize how pointless 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 after high school can lead to a more financially secure future and a positive career experience. If higher education officials can’t convince students of this, they better be honest with themselves about why.