New England to Promote College Readiness

Workforce concerns prompt region’s states to establish joint effort.

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Worried about the possible shrinkage of their educated workforces in coming decades, the New England states have joined together on a new initiative aimed at preparing more students to tackle college.

Governors of all six states in the region and public university officials have signed on to the goals embraced by the project, called College Ready New England. They include raising high school graduation rates, bolstering college readiness among high school graduates, and increasing college enrollment and college-completion rates. The New England Board of Higher Education, a Boston-based nonprofit the six states founded in the 1950s, is administering the program.

“This is a commitment on the part of six states to work as one,” said Stephen J. Reno, the chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire. “We’re holding each others’ feet to the fire.”

The initiative is part of a national trend aimed at aligning K-12 schools more closely with higher education to prepare students for the growing number of careers that require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, said Michael K. Thomas, the director of College Ready New England. He said the program represents the first regional approach to those issues.

Vermont on April 19 became the first state to launch the program. The other five—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island—will follow in coming months, Mr. Thomas said. New England’s population growth over the next decade is likely to be low or stagnant, according to Mr. Thomas. He said a higher percentage of students in the region will enter high school from racial- and ethnic-minority groups, who typically graduate from high school and college at lower rates than their peers.

The initiative will help states work together to keep New England economically competitive in the face of such demographic shifts, he said, by providing a forum to share resources, best practices, and research to increase the number of college graduates.

For example, states could use the project as a means to design outreach campaigns, such as television commercials touting the benefits of a higher education.

Mr. Thomas said each state will draft its own policies to meet the goals outlined by the initiative. Still, the project plans to release recommendations for states to consider, which could include requiring students to take a college-preparatory curriculum in order to graduate from high school and calling for 10th graders to take the PSAT exam.

Raising Awareness

States in the region have already begun to consider ways to implement the program. New Hampshire plans to expand a program called Project Mentor, in which college sophomores commit to spending three years serving as an academic role model for a middle school student.

Other policymakers hope the initiative will help them advance proposals already in the works. Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, hopes to align it with a 15-year, $175 million state scholarship program that provides grants to Vermont students who go to college and spend the first three years of their careers in the state. If they leave before that time, they must repay the money.

Lawmakers generally favor the proposal, but some question Gov. Douglas’ plan to use money from the 1998 multistate legal settlement with the tobacco industry to pay for it, said state Rep. Timothy Jerman, a Democrat, who is working on the state’s version of College Ready New England.

Rep. Jerman said that whether or not Vermont chooses to enact the governor’s scholarship proposal, the regional initiative will help the state to raise awareness about the importance of going to college.

PHOTO: Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, right, listens as higher education official Evan Dobelle speaks about College Ready New England, an effort to boost college participation.
—Toby Talbot/AP

Vol. 25, Issue 34, Page 21

Published in Print: May 3, 2006, as New England to Promote College Readiness
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