Last week at Dominican University, the School of Business and Leadership hosted a forum featuring some of the leading experts on employee stock ownership plans for businesses and how they can help sustain family-owned companies for generations.

It was just one more example of the remarkable higher educational assets that exist in the North Bay, including, of course, Sonoma State University, University of San Francisco, Santa Rosa Junior College, College of Marin and Napa Valley College, among others.

Too bad we're not using them.

That is an exaggeration, of course, but there also is some truth to it.

Students come from all over California, the nation and abroad to attend these North Bay institutions of higher learning. But not enough local students are doing the same.

In Sonoma County, for instance, only 26 percent of seniors do the minimum coursework to apply to CSU or UC, compared with 35 percent statewide, according to data from the state Department of Education.

On June 10, the North Bay Leadership Council will release a report that focuses on the benefits of "College-Prep for All." The report, prepared by researchers at Dominican for the NBLC, proposes a solution to the college preparation dilemma: to ensure all high school students have access to the "A-through-G" courses required for admission to a California state college or university.

The idea, which has taken root in Los Angeles high schools, is not embraced by all educators. Some believe it will cause even more students to fail or drop out of high school because the will be overwhelmed by the coursework. In addition, they say, college is not for everyone.

But completing the "A-through-G" doesn't mean every student must want to or can go to college. Of course some will want to enter technical training, which is fine. But think how much better prepared they will be for whatever choice they make.

Education ultimately is about giving young people the tools to meet life's challenges. It is about setting expectations. And it is about giving yourself options, which is especially critical as continuing globalization requires higher skill levels and the ability to adapt to change.

One has to ask the hard question: How many kids end up in easier, lower-level classes because either they or someone somewhere assumed they weren't college material? Or maybe they weren't aware of the classes?

If every high school student had to at least attempt the more advanced courses required for college, at least we would know they had the chance.

And it's a good bet many, many more will meet the challenge.

                                                             •••

Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com.