As Higher Ed Changes, College Prep Starts Early

College Prep Having one meeting with a college counselor and taking a practice SAT exam just won’t cut it anymore as appropriate college prep for high school students. According to recent trends, higher competition and more college options are forcing students and teachers to rethink the way they approach college readiness. College Readiness Takes on New Meaning The increased cost of post-secondary school is fundamentally changing the way high school students and teachers view the college application process. It is no longer practical to look at college strictly as a time of well-rounded social and personal development; the costs are too high for this. Instead, colleges are beginning to design programs around job-readiness. Marketing efforts are focused on how a school can help get you a job, rather than a life experience. As colleges increasingly become a stepping stone for the right job, secondary schools are changing the way they prepare students for college. ACT, Inc., commonly known for its college readiness assessment exam, is launching a program that starts the career and college prep process in 3rd grade. This is expected to dramatically impact the way teachers encourage college prep in the classroom. Other for-profit schools are designing curriculum around the college prep process. According to Jenny Anderson’s article for the New York Times, Manhattan schools such as Avenues and Leman Manhattan will be instituting college counseling beginning in a student’s freshman year. They will even let 7th graders go on 3-day college visits to ensure that they develop this focus early on. This method of encouraging college prep early is intended to garner attention from colleges in addition to helping students stay focused. Other non-profit institutions worry this puts too much pressure on young students, but the practice is gaining interest in schools beyond New York City. College Degrees are More Important than Ever Though the economy is more stable than it was at the peak of the housing crisis, competition for entry-level jobs remains high. In order to qualify for the few open positions, more students are enrolling in college than ever before. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences, Enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 9 percent between 1989 and 1999. This growth exploded between 1999 and 2009, when enrollment increased 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million. Additionally, enrollment in online programs and community colleges has risen dramatically as of late. A report by the Babson Survey Research Group indicated that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online class during fall 2010—a 10.1 percent increase over the year before. Community college enrollment has increased for 8 of the past 10 years, with a slightly lower increase of 3 percent in 2010. This caps a 17 percent increase during the heavy recession years of 2007-09. As the job market dries up, competition for once plentiful entry-level positions increases. Students are looking to post-secondary education to increase their hireability and are exploring non-traditional tracks in order to get the job done. Cost of College Leads to New Ways of Earning Degrees With college enrollment at an all-time high, costs are climbing every year. According to a Sallie Mae report, almost 70 percent of families eliminated schools from their lists because of their cost compared with 64 percent last year and 56 percent in 2008. The typical family now borrows 18 percent of their total costs in student loans, and 9 percent in parent loans, compared with 15 percent for students and 7 percent for parents last year. Rising enrollment and tuition costs have been altering the nature of earning a college degree for some time. In response to the financial crisis, enrollment in community colleges began to rise. Now, enrollment in distance education and online degree programs is allowing students to earn a degree without an expensive move or incurring room and board costs. Companies like 2tor are taking quality programs like University of Southern California’s MAT online, giving students worldwide access to a degree that they might not have had otherwise. This allows families to stay put while they increase hireability. Reuters reports that for 47 percent of families that earn more than $100 thousand per year, students are still living at home while earning a college degree. Will College Worry Consume our Children? The meaning of earning a college degree is changing. No longer reserved for the privileged and well-connected, college degrees are becoming a necessary tool for separating oneself from the pack in a job search. Students are finding new ways to earn degrees, and schools are finding new ways to prepare their students to do so. Perhaps kindergarten will someday fit SAT prep in between finger painting and nap time. What do you think?