High-school Graduation and College-readiness: Why both matter

The FE Coalition congratulates the high-school and college graduating class of 2020!

As the director of the FE Coalition, I have made public education a top priority of discussion and advocacy within NHCLC churches for several reasons.

Hispanics now make up 26% of public school students (roughly 14 million), up from 16% twenty years ago, and in 2017 nearly three-quarters of Hispanics (73%) said improving the educational system should be a top priority for federal law makers. Additionally, we recognize that the vast majority of Hispanic students in America will remain enrolled and continue to enroll in public schools in the coming years with the goal of graduating from high-school.

When I entered high school, my counselor gave me the choice between three tracks toward graduation: Accelerated, Recommended, or Distinguished. As a high-school freshman I figured the first path was to “finish high-school fast” (in three years), the next was to “have a normal experience,” and the last was the “the more difficult option.”  But this is an oversimplified explanation. What I should have asked was, “Which diploma track will give me the best shot at succeeding in a 4-year university?”

In other words, which path will help me become “college-ready?”

Pastores y padres, if you have been following the FE Coalition for the past few years then the following statement will not surprise you: high school graduation should no longer be the benchmark for academic achievement and the goal for Hispanic K-12 students in America.

We should aim higher.

Hispanic high-school graduation rates are up and college enrollment has increased, but still many Hispanic students graduate from high-school only to find out they need to take remedial courses in college, or worse, they consider themselves unqualified for college altogether. Only about 25% of Hispanic high school graduates meet college-ready standards, and those that don’t must take remedial courses before they can earn college credit.

My point: we should be aiming for college-readiness. 

College-readiness can be even worse for Hispanic English Learners. The English Learner population continues to grow, and Hispanics make up more than 75% of English Learners nationwide. The work may be difficult, but our public schools need to hold English Learners to high and rigorous learning standards so that they too can become college- or career-ready by graduation, and not tracked to receive a second-class education.

Regardless of a student’s zip code, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or perceived learning capabilities, every student should be held to standards of education that will prepare him or her for college or a career upon high school graduation. 

State education plans should implement high and rigorous standards of learning and at the same time be bold and creative, and pastors and parents need to be on the front lines encouraging state and district educational leaders to promote these standards so that one day we can confidently say that an American high school diploma indicates that our students are college-ready.

High-school graduation and college-readiness both matter. 

The first will give us reason to celebrate in the present, the second, a reason to hope for the future.

Forward and higher in Christ, 

Rev. Girien R. Salazar
Executive Director, FE Coalition