Two years ago, Steve Schneider, a high school guidance counselor in Sheboygan, Wisc., had been fairly satisfied. More than 90 percent of his students graduated every year, and according to senior exit surveys, about three-quarters went to a four-year institution, with the remaining enrolling in local, technical colleges.
Or so he thought.
In fact, about half of South High School graduates continue onto any kind of postsecondary education. So what happened? Schneider got free access to school-specific data from the National Student Clearinghouse that followed his students where school officials hadn’t. The data, he said, was “awakening.”
Of the half of students pursuing postsecondary education, about 40 percent chose a four-year institution, while the others opted for two-year colleges. And the other 50 percent? They entered the workforce, presumably. But with what skills? That’s where Schneider decided he needed to make changes.
A year later, South High School offers 22 dual-credit classes in business, marketing, and information technology, thanks to a partnership with the local technical college. The courses are tied directly to the community’s needs. Students can enroll in individual classes as early as their freshmen year or as late as their senior year. The basic courses are not prerequisites for the higher-level courses. Courses are less about career tracks, Schneider says, than about opportunities for students to gauge career interests early on.
The support of local businesses has been essential to the initiative. Businesses determine what fields and occupations are in high demand, and the market determines which courses will be offered. Local businesses have also helped pay for program improvements, including funding an overhaul of the school’s manufacturing labs to bring them in line with the latest technology and workspaces. Businesses also provide paid seven-week internships in engineering.
In the last year, Schneider says he’s seen about a 30 percent increase in enrollment in the classes, which give students credit for both a high school diploma and a college credential. It’s too early to determine how the changes will affect graduation rates, college-going rates, or job placements, but even without this valuable outcomes data, one thing is clear: By looking where many school administrators don’t, Schneider has found opportunities to better serve his students.
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