'Pomp and Circumstance' (For A Very Few)

This is a surprising graph showing the down slide in high school graduation rates the past 15 years. Certainly not what I had anticipated.

I grew up in the 1970's in a large Midwestern family. I came from multiple generations of farmers; none had attended college. Didn't need to. They learned all they needed to know about running a farm by just staying home and working (and working, and working). My siblings and I very quickly figured out that we did not want to stay in Mayberry our whole life and grow up to be farmers. Our parents told all six kids quite early on that while they expected us to get a college education, they could not really afford to pay for it. Tough news to hear for an eight year old. Somehow though, we were all able to scrape up the money to pay for a college education and graduate school. This primarily involved unpleasant activities such as working during the summer in the fields or on construction sites, and supplementing with paper routes, lawn mowing, and snow shovelling. Jobs during the school year paid for some of the housing and books, etc. We all took out a large amount in student loans (8% interest rate) but an investment in yourself is the best that you can ever make. We were not alone; nearly all our friends and classmates, (including the farm kids) did the same and most graduated from college. In just one generation it appeared to me that a college education went from being very rare to being an expectation. High school was to our parents what college was to us and what graduate school would be to our kids.

Unfortunately we have regressed from an education standpoint. Some facts from the 2006 National Report Card on Higher Education (in quotes): "Montana has seen a double-digit drop in the proportion of 9th graders graduating from high school within four years and decreased dramatically over the past decade." Amazingly, compared to other states, Montana's high school graduation rate (about 80%) places it among the top 10. I think our Montana school system is actually very good. It is mind boggling that 20% of our kids do not take advantage of it. The future does not look so good for them. I suspect that many high school dropouts end up on public assistance which is ironic because the best help we could offer them is a degree.

So what happens to those Montana high school graduates? Only 45% will enter college. "Relatively few Montana high school graduates enroll in college directly after high school compared with other leading states." It looks even worse if you look at:

Percentage of Montana ninth graders who finish high school on time, go directly to college and finish a degree within six years:

For Montana: that is a whopping 18%. (Hey, we beat Mississippi!)

Of course, there are some Montana high school graduates who will go back later to get their college degree, but not many. "A very small percentage (2.1%) of working-age adults (ages 25 to 49) are enrolled part-time in college-level education or training. Montana ranks as the lowest-performing state on this measure."

"When compared internationally, Montana is surpassed by many countries in the proportion of students who complete degrees. With 18 out of 100 students enrolled completing a degree or certificate, Montana's completion rate is only 73% of the rate in the United Kingdom, the top-performing country on this measure. Montana also lags Japan, Portugal, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, France, Iceland, Korea, Belgium, Sweden and Canada." (Hey, we beat Mexico!)

This post is not intended to be snobbish, just meant to put a spotlight on a huge problem. I meet way too many young people who are intelligent but have not bothered to obtain a college degree. The value of a college degree needs to be made very obvious to all our middle school students. (see the impact on household wealth here) In the global marketplace, why would an employer hire a young person with only a U.S. high school degree, when they could hire someone from India who completed four years of college, speaks several languages, and works harder for less pay?

School administrators want to paint the low college transition and completion rates as an affordability problem. From the Report Card: "The state makes a very low investment in need-based financial aid compared with top-performing states, even though Montana has increased its commitment to financially needy students since 1992."

A high school education is FREE, yet 20% of Montana children drop out. So why is a failure of kids to get a college degree due to a lack of financial support? In reality, our chief barriers to a child obtaining a college degree are the students lack of motivation as well as the low priorities and expectations set by their parents.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

It would be interesting to compare the real numbers to homeschooled children in Montana because I am often hearing how homeschoolers do so much better than the OPI efforts.

GeeGuy said...

So, what's the solution?

Wait. It's coming to me...

More money for Education!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.... I read the first post and then Geeguy's response.... and now I am wondering why a $30,000,000 tuition cost freeze and the loan forgiveness to attract teachers?

Yeah, a $140 million more for schools over the next two years makes sense now as well.

According to the Trib's report from the Legislative Fiscal Division


— About $140 million more for schools over the next two years
— Optional all-day kindergarten
— A teacher loan repayment program of up to $3,000 per year to help schools facing staff shortages to attract teachers
— A freeze on college tuition, at a cost of about $30 million

free thought said...

I do not think money is the answer, because the problem is motivation--which has to come from the family pushing and supporting the child.

I saw that when I went to school (Paris Gibson Junior High and Great Falls High in particular). I see it now in my daughter's school. There are way too many parents who do not give a damn. No rules (ie, bed times and nutrition needed for learning), no homework required, no help with school. It is hard to expect a kid to come up with his or her own motivation in that situation (although some do).

Which means we will always have a cyclical effect of some people who just do not care enough to succeed. We cannot force them to succeed. They will not do it alone. So that is what is passed from generation to generation.

Therefore, there probably is no answer, no way to "solve" the problem.

WolfPack said...

Another hidden story in this is the drop in High School graduation requirements. With all the alternative ways of getting a diploma today the bar has been dropped significantly, so the statistics may be worse than they appear. I have a nephew who graduated from Skyline who is functionally illiterate. Couldn't write a note telling you how to take care of his dog if his life depended on it. All Skyline taught him was how to skate by for 3 years until he was old enough to skate by in the adult world flipping burgers.

Anonymous said...

No...no... my remarks were somewhat snarky in posting the amount of money being thrown at Montana education ----

Of course money is not the answer. see:

1) Rod Paige Confronts the Teachers Unions By Elizabeth Smitham 

"..... Teachers’ unions oppose plans that empower parents to demand accountability and choice, which they see as a threat to the jobs of underperforming teachers. For the unions, many innovative reform proposals are just unacceptable."

2) Required reading recommended, especially Four Essential Principles for Education Success.

Additionally, look at the moral fabric of those in charge of the schools. What do they value? Is there a problem with leadership failing to inspire the upcoming generations or is there, indeed, A Moral Case against government run schools?

What would happen if Helena Bureaucrats demanded School Choice implemented? What would happen to OPI?