Finishing School [Part Three]
How age-old obstacles and a brand-new law affect college completion
“I didn’t have the mindset to pursue higher education,” says John Yi, a 25-year-old Clarksburg resident, who started his odyssey at Montgomery College in 2007. “I signed up for classes because my parents wanted me to. School was my last priority.” And it showed. After failing or withdraing from almost all of his classes for nearly three years, Yi gave up and briefly stopped attending.
While working full time at Bank of America as a sales specialist, Yi finally realized, “I was living paycheck to paycheck. My friends were off doing big things—and I was pretty envious. I knew if I wanted to do better, I needed a degree.”
In 2010, he resurrected his academic career, retaking a number of classes he’d previously failed. He managed to replace Ws and Fs with As and Bs. By the end of the spring 2013 semester, he had the credits to transfer to the University of Maryland. He is currently pursing a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
Though only one class short of his AA in general studies, Yi did not pursue the degree. “To be honest, I didn’t think it was important to get an associate’s as long as I got my bachelor’s,” he says. He’s not alone: 86 percent of the College’s students fail to complete a degree in three years.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” says Dr. Donald Pearl, the College’s senior vice president of academic affairs, who extols the virtues of completion. “If you leave here with a degree, it has very clearly defined outcomes that someone in industry would be able to understand. It shows you have the broad-based educational experience to get a job. Getting the degree says you can start a job and finish it.”
To ensure even more Montgomery County students get the help they need to come prepared to College—and to complete a degree, Montgomery College, Montgomery County Public Schools, and the Universities at Shady Grove launched an innovative program for underrepresented high school students this fall. Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES), a free program, helps students throughout their high school and MC experience with academic coaching, college readiness and success activities, and support services.
Erwin Hesse underscores how critical it is to provide students with the information and opportunities they need to make degree completion a reality. “I didn’t know my high school guidance counselor was supposed to tell me these things,” he says. After finishing at Montgomery College, he earned a bachelor’s degree at University of Maryland, a graduate certificate at Harvard University, and most recently, an MPA from the University of Baltimore.
Hesse parlayed his education and experiences—good and bad— into a full-time admissions representative position at the University of Maryland. “I have a unique viewpoint,” says Hesse. “Not only is it incumbent on education to help the student with straight As and 2,400 on the SAT, but also the student who’s below average and wants to reach his or her potential. We have to make all students’ dreams come true.”
New Law Impacts K–12 Students, Too
The College and Career Readiness and College Completion Act of 2013 impacts the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and local K–12 school systems, too. The key elements of the bill include:
- Providing that all students must be assessed for college readiness no later than grade 11
- Requiring the MSDE, in collaboration with local school systems and community colleges, to develop and implement transition courses or other instructional opportunities to be delivered in high school
- Requiring that all high school students must enroll in mathematics each year of high school
- Setting a goal that all secondary students achieve Algebra II competency
- Prohibiting public higher education from charging tuition to dually enrolled students
- Requiring local school systems to reimburse public higher education institutions for a portion of the tuition for dually enrolled students
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