LePage’s education plans: More early college, more technical learning

By Bonnie Washuk, Sun Journal (MCT)
Posted Jan. 31, 2011, at 5:52 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine – Most jobs in Maine will require post-secondary education. That means more Maine students have to finish high school, go on to college and finish college, said Stephen Bowen, senior policy adviser for Gov. Paul LePage.

“Between the junior year of high school and the junior year of college, we’re losing a lot of kids,” Bowen said.

He said a big piece of improving Maine’s economy will be getting Maine kids “the education they need.”

Specifics on how LePage hopes to do that are not yet developed, nor are the costs.

“We’ve been on the job three weeks,” Bowen said. “The budget is still in development. It has not yet been determined what will be going up or down.”

The new governor’s education goals include the following:

“How do we get these kids coming out of high school into college or some post-secondary education?” Bowen asked. “That’s where (the governor) learned about this concept of a fifth year of high school, which is broadly defined as we want to increase the number of college courses available to kids while they’re still in high school.”

While he’s named much of his cabinet, LePage has not yet chosen an education commissioner.

“It’s in the works,” Bowen said. “He wants to take his time. He’s being picky.”

Expanding technical education

In recent years, there has been a push for four-year college degrees; students have been discouraged from going into trades, he said. “Gov. LePage talks about, ‘Go and try to find a plumber.’ These jobs aren’t going away. Roofing jobs aren’t going to China. He feels the education system has turned away from that.”

Statewide, there’s been a focus on getting all kids college-ready and increasing standards.

“That’s a good thing,” Bowen said. “But we’ve had kids fall through the cracks.”

Technical education can capture some of those students and build jobs, he said.

“Vocational education has been scaled back in some places,” Bowen said. “(LePage) wants to be sure we have a robust vocational education and technical school and work force development programs out there to get these kids the skills they need.”

College classes in high school

The fifth year of high school idea could mean students travel one day a week to a community college or a university to take classes, Bowen said. It could mean offering more online college courses to high school students.

Or it could mean offering more early college courses in high school, or offering courses in which students could earn both high school and college credit, which Bowen called “dual credit.” Students would not pay for their fifth year in high school, he said.

“We’ve been using the ‘fifth year’ terminology, but it really is early college,” he said. “Giving kids who are ready to go access to those courses.”

“(It’s important to stress) how much flexibility we’re talking about with that,” he said. “When we say fifth year of high school, people say, ‘OK, we’re going to have to expand our high school campuses to make room for these kids staying an extra year.’ That’s not necessarily what we’re talking about.”

It is about giving high school seniors and fifth-year students access to programs on campuses, online or in high school, he said.

There’s no kind of fixed structure the LePage administration is envisioning, Bowen said. It would be long term and would involve cooperation among K-12 schools, adult education, the Maine Department of Labor, community colleges and universities.

“It’s really, again, taking a look at what kind of capacity do we have statewide now?” he said. “Where do we have models that are getting kids access to those programs? What can we do at the state level to make sure there are dual-credit agreements so kids can take a course in high school that counts toward their diploma and college credit as well?”

One goal is to allow students to take an extra year in high school and end up with both their diploma and two years of college credits.

“We know that model is out there,” Bowen said. “We’ve seen that in other states.”

Some high school students take required courses during the first three years, then coast and take “softball” courses their senior year, Bowen said. That year could be better spent earning college credits, saving students time and money.

University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College Dean Joyce Gibson agreed that the jobs of the future would require college degrees.

About the goal to expand early college, “that’s positive,” Gibson said. Androscoggin County high schools and LAC already participate in early college, she said. “We asked at a chamber meeting that it be sustained or expanded.”

Taking college courses in high school is a powerful confidence-builder for some who may not have thought they could succeed, she said.

“The majority do very well,” she said.

Asked how much money would be put into education to achieve the governor’s goals, Bowen said he didn’t know.

“The governor’s goal is to increase the amount of money put into schools, if that is possible,” Bowen said. “He also wants to look carefully at how we’re spending the money now.”

Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/01/31/politics/lepages-education-plans-more-early-college-more-technical-learning/ printed on July 28, 2014