Why high school students need a 13th year

-- Kathleen Escarcha, Senior Staff Writer

Nearly half of Boston's high schoolers don't graduate college within six years. And a quarter of the city's top students between 2005 and 2007 didn't earn a bachelor's degree within six years of graduation, according to the Boston Globe's Valedictorians Project.

An extra year of high school might help, argues Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty.

The optional extra year of school, which would be offered to all students who have earned their high school diplomas, would provide "an extra layer of support" to ensure students are college-ready, Flaherty told the Boston Globe.

Flaherty points out that despite the city's increasing high school graduation rate, some students struggle to persist through college. "Every year we continue to increase our graduation rate, which is good," says Flaherty. "There is the hugs-and-high-five moment when a kid crosses the stage, but it’s not enough to compete for jobs or get through college."

Low college completion rates are not a Boston-specific issue. A third of the top-scoring U.S. high school students don't earn a college degree, although almost all enroll in college, according to the Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce (Georgetown CEW).

The stakes of college completion are high for both students and the nation. Students who don't obtain a degree typically earn $1 million less over their career. This "talent drain.... [hurts the] overall competitiveness of the American workforce," says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown CEW.

Like Boston, several other U.S. cities and states are considering or have introduced programs to boost college completion, writes Shawna De La Rosa for Education Dive.

Related: How to create a summer bridge program that actually works

Washington state and Kalamazoo, Michigan, for example, have both launched free tuition programs to help develop the regional economy, writes De La Rosa. Tennessee's free community college program, called the Tennessee Promise, has so far seen success with a 60% increase in students earning degrees or certificates, she adds.

Other programs focus on re-enrolling adult students. Wayne State University, for instance, has launched the Warrior Way Back program for students who left the university with debt and no degree. In the program, former students with an outstanding balance of $1,500 or less can re-enroll and "learn" away their debt. Wayne State will forgive a third of students' debt each time they successfully complete a semester.

Free post-high school education may also help students who plan to pursue specialized career training, rather than attend college, writes De La Rosa. Florida, for instance, is evaluating a plan to infuse workforce training into the high school timeframe by allowing students on a technical education pathway to graduate with 18 credits rather than 24 (De La Rosa, Education Dive, 3/7; Irons, Boston Globe, 3/4).

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