We live and work in an interconnected world with a truly global economy, driven by nimbleness and innovation. It is increasingly clear to those paying attention that our international success depends on the transformation of our education system. Our continued ability to compete as a nation—and for states, regions, and communities to attract growth industries, create jobs, and attract and retain talent—demands a fresh approach to the way we view college and career readiness. The one-size-fits-all approach of the past and present will not ensure our future success. Our discussions of college and career readiness today have been pigeon-holed by narrow discussions of standards and assessments. These discussions are important, but to be clear, learning structures and outcomes are equally important. Our nation must embrace, more broadly, more personalized, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning that blur the lines between traditional K-12, higher education, and workforce silos. These approaches need to capitalize on rapidly emerging technologies to help all learners master critical competencies and social and emotional skills and to incentivize students to complete college credit, in a robust way, while still in high school. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, French chemist and microbiologist, change is chance which favors the mind that is well prepared. Our global economy is one that is rapidly evolving and reshaping. We need all of our students and thus all of our graduates ready to propel our nation forward.
How do we do this? First, we need to look at our goals. As a marker, Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education, has articulated an aggressive goal for 2025 in the following way, “To increase the proportion of Americans with highquality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.” President Obama has articulated a similar goal for the nation, that the nation would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. To put this into context, the current percentage of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 with a two- or four-year degree is 38.7 percent. We also know that 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. To reach this goal, the nation must produce 62 million high-quality degrees and credentials over the next decade. If we continue at our current rate, the U.S. will produce around 39 million two- and four-year college degrees by 2025, leaving a gap of 23 million. How do we close the gap? To state the obvious, we need to increase the number of individuals successfully navigating high school, matriculating, and completing a post-secondary program. Nationally, we are rapidly becoming a majority-minority nation and low-income, minority students will graduate with a college degree at less than half the rate of their higher income counterparts. If the trend is not reversed, the United States’ global economic innovation and strength could be threatened. The aforementioned is why we need to focus on low-income and first-generation students, and racial and ethnic minorities. One excellent way to do that is through Early College High Schools.