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College curriculum helps high school students, economyThe North Bay Leadership Council applauds school districts that support college and career readiness for all students. As an employer-led public policy advocacy organization, NBLC represents the leading employers the North Bay. Our top public policy issue is education, reflecting our members’ interest in having the best workforce possible and desire to increase our economic competitiveness in our region.

Why is education so important, and especially, why is it important to have our students be college and career ready? Studies have shown that the demands of jobs being generated increasingly require higher skill sets. Almost every job now requires some post-secondary education, which can include degrees from junior colleges, certificate and apprenticeship programs, trade & technical schools and four-year universities.

As we become more technologically based, many jobs require more knowledge of computers, math and greater communication skills, both oral and written. For example, carpenters, electricians, health care workers, architects and educators have all raised the bar on what basic skills are required to be successful in those fields. Whether it be obtaining a certificate, two year degree, four year degree or post-grad degree, we need to prepare students for learning and adding skills after high school.

Within the state of California, students meet eligibility for attendance at four-year universities by completing a set of requirements which include the following: a) 2 years of history/social science, b) 4 years of English, c) 3 years of math, d) 2 years of lab science, e) 2 years of a foreign language, f) a year-long course in visual and performing arts and g) a year-long college prep elective; a total of 15 courses. These requirements are also known as “a-g” requirements. Meeting “a-g” along with rich elective opportunities focused on career technical education will not only prepare students for college and career it will most importantly prepare them for life.

Recent research predicts that today’s graduates should expect to have 10 to 15 careers before they are just 38. Each career will demand adding new skills, mastering new competencies and increasing one’s employability by staying up to date in the skills needed to fulfill job requirements. If you can anticipate needing to be adaptable and continuously increasing your skills, it becomes even more important to prepare for the need to be able to learn new skills by completing “a-g” requirements.

Unfortunately, only 26 percent of Sonoma County students are fulfilling the “a-g” requirements, well below the national and state average. Other school districts that have increased the rigor of their graduation requirements have seen students rise to the occasion. For example, San Jose Unified, with 32,000 students, adopted “a-g” coursework as the default curriculum in 2002. Of its graduates from the six comprehensive high schools in the district, nearly half can apply directly for admission to state colleges based on the fact that they took and passed all of the required “a-g” classes with a C grade or better. And despite concerns, there was no reduction in San Jose Unified District’s graduation rate and the achievement gap between Latino students and others narrowed.

School districts are right to raise their expectations for student achievement. Results show that students rise to meet more rigorous requirements and increased rigor benefits all students because it reverses the cycle of low expectations. Students who have been traditionally underserved and relegated to low-end curriculum are steadily achieving more. Keeping more than two thirds of the students out of the running for college limits their future success and hurts the communities in which they live. It is time to give all students access to the tools necessary for them to be fulfilled by careers that are challenging and lucrative.

Additionally, the need to close the achievement gap for Latino students has been well documented. With Sonoma County’s population now 25 percent Latino and growing, it is time to stop marginalizing these students by putting up barriers for them to be college and career ready. They need equal access to a quality education.

As the economy recovers, the U.S. needs to be competitive not only with other regions of California and the nation but globally. By 2025, 45 percent of all jobs will require a college degree – unfortunately, it is predicted that our state will be 1 million short of this number. School district must have the vision and leadership to prepare all of their students to be college and career ready. Their actions will prove vital to their students’ futures and ours.

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Cynthia Murray is the president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, which is composed of major North Bay employers addressing economic and public policy issues. She can be reached at cmurray@northbayleadership.org.