In my last two posts, I wrote about the rural brain drain as described by researchers Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas in their book Hollowing Out the Middle.
Carr and Kefalas link the decline of rural communities to the fact that rural areas across America are losing their college-educated young people while retaining those vocational students with bleak economic prospects.
They believe rural communities are committing suicide by pushing the brightest young people to leave while practically ignoring those who choose to stay or who return after finding life elsewhere was not for them.
At the same time I was reading Hollowing Out the Middle, I was taking a course in data-driven journalism sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
In the course, I began roughing out an idea for a data journalism project. It would investigate costs and benefits to local taxpayers of subsidizing, through dual enrollment courses, students going on to four-year colleges and compare them with the costs and benefits of subsidizing students in vocational/technical training who remain in the local area.
In the process, I stumbled on on some local information that gives credence to the thesis of Hollowing Out the Middle.
My local school district in upstate New York provides vocational training through a regional educational services agency, the DCMO BOCES. Articulation agreements between the BOCES and specific higher education providers (usually community colleges) allow graduates of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs to get college credit for courses taken at the high school level.
Articulation agreements with selected post-secondary schools are set on a program-specific basis. So if Josh is studying automotive technology, the post-secondary schools at which he could apply his college credits may be limited to two or three community colleges in the state.
I did not realize that the articulation agreements typically do not allow students to apply for the college credits until they have completed a semester —12 hours — with a average of 80%.
Assuming the students’ high school background is good enough that they don’t need to take remedial courses (a big assumption) during that first semester, students would be taking primarily general education courses, like English composition, math, and history.
For most vocationally-oriented students, those general education requirements are likely to be the most difficult courses of their post-secondary work. Sending those students off to cope with general education courses on their own — sometimes without so much as one course in their chosen field to keep them engaged — is handicapping them from the start.
Side note: The state Board of Regents is sufficiently concerned about the academic readiness of CTE graduates that it is looking at options for helping CTE students with the academic component of their high school program.
By comparison, the typical dual-enrollment programs for students headed to four-year schools focus primarily on general education courses. Often those college courses are taught to students in their home high school either via distance learning technology or by a high school teacher with adjunct status at the college. In small, rural high schools, those alternatives mean the academically talented kids, unlike their peers in CTE programs, get the benefit of high school support for those transition-to-college general education courses.
Because general education courses are pretty much the same anywhere they’re given, academically talented students can apply their credits at most two- and -four-year colleges anywhere in the nation immediately on enrollment, without having to prove they are up to the rigors of college during that first traumatic college semester.
I’ve not had time to do more than take a quick look at the articulation agreements, but what I’ve seen so far suggests some interesting stories are buried in the data compiled by local educational agencies.