Bt Scott Kirk
When do you start talking to your child about college? When he’s 12? When she’s 16? How about pre-kindergarten?
The College Board, the people who brought us the SAT, has introduced a program that introduces kindergarten students to the concept of college. The program is being used in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Memphis, Nashville, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. The idea is to increase the number of college graduates and to give America a boost in competing in a global economy.
What the College Board has designed is much like the P-16 program that has been in Texas since 2005. The idea behind the P-16 program was to encourage a partnership between public education and higher education.
“It is trying to create this seamless transition from public school into college,” said Randy Pool, chairman of the Abilene Regional P-16 Council.
Pool said the demographics of the state showed that Texas colleges and universities needed to increase their college enrollment by 600,000 to maintain their graduation rates.
“One of the biggest problems was that the growth was coming from a population that didn’t traditionally attend college,” Pool said. The P-16 program seeks to address the problem in three areas, he said.
“It’s basically a three-prong approach,” he said. “One is to produce a college-going culture. Two is to close the achievement gap between minority students and white students. And three is to produce a ready workforce.”
Pool said the earlier children are introduced to the concept of college, the better.
“We fix all these problems in kindergarten,” he said. “If we energize children about college, they’re more likely to talk to their parents about it and more likely to get their parents involved.”
It is by no means a hard sell on the kids, Pool said. One of the activities is to bring stuffed animals into the classroom wearing college jerseys. Another is to identify a college to color in an assignment.
“We’re trying to work it into the curriculum,” said Pool, an Abilene businessman.
Kay Robbins, director of curriculum and instruction at Abilene Christian Schools, said her school starts college prep work “at whatever age they come to us. We start emphasizing language skills in pre-K and getting them to think critically.”
Robbins said ACS students constantly are urged to continue education past high school graduation. “We strongly encourage our kids to continue their education and the vast majority of them do,” she said. “A lot of families just don’t know how to go about it.”
Not everyone is convinced that introducing kindergarten students to college is the wisest move. Some believe the program will come with a cost other than financial.
“We’re in danger of taking something valuable from our children, their childhood,” said Dr. Marc Orner, an Abilene psychologist and family counselor.
Orner believes the education system feels pressure to adopt measures that other countries are taking because those countries have higher test scores.
“We’ll look and see that Europe and Asia are improving their scores, so we should do what they do to improve our scores,” he said. “But we’re not Europe or Asia. We’re different culturally. We treat our kids differently. We relate to our kids differently. It is important to remember that everything needs to be age-appropriate.”
Orner suggested that the appropriate age to start talking to children about the importance of attending college is 13, maybe 12.
“They need to be developed to the point that they can process this on their own,” Orner said. “If they do it too early, they may reach some conclusions that are erroneous.”
While the debate may continue over the correct age to begin talking to children about college, Pool said he found solace in the fact that both public education and higher education understand that it is a problem that requires both entities to work on.
“The most encouraging thing,” he said, “is that both higher education and public education are at the table and talking about what they need to do.”