The chasm between public schools and higher education is not as wide as it sometimes seems. Clearly, however, more needs to be done to eliminate it in West Virginia.
Often it appears two entirely different, uncoordinated education systems serve young people - not just here, but throughout the United States. Children begin in kindergarten or "pre-K" programs and progress through high school. Once they earn diplomas, some choose to go to technical schools, colleges or universities. There, too often, jarring shocks await them. There seems to be little relationship between the classrooms they have just left and the ones they have entered.
State higher education leaders met in Charleston last week for a conference focusing on a five-year plan for colleges and universities. The Higher Education Policy Commission stated the plan will include "a strong focus on ensuring access to an affordable higher education for West Virginians." That will mean "increasing students' completion rates, assuring that academic programs prepare them to be knowledgeable and competent, and moving them from the classroom to careers in West Virginia."
Much needs to change for those lofty goals to be met. One recent report on graduation rates at West Virginia institutions of higher learning showed that at some state colleges and universities, fully two-thirds of students who enter fail to graduate.
And, as the HEPC points out, cost is a challenge. Tuition alone for four years at a state college or university tops $20,000. Add housing, food, textbooks and other expenses, and the cost of a bachelor's degree soars above what the parents of some students paid for their houses.
Higher education cannot tackle the challenges alone. Many college and university administrators complain that their students' success rates would be higher if public school graduates were prepared better. K-12 educators often respond that their graduates meet or exceed state requirements - and that they'd love to help higher education if someone would just tell them what is lacking.
Don't get us wrong: There are links between public schools and higher education. For example, many high schools offer Advanced Placement classes that can give students head starts on college. Many colleges and universities have programs that work closely with public schools.
But on both sides of the divide, objective educators know more could - and should - be done.
A start might be made by more cooperation in the planning and policy arenas. A coordinated approach should be the goal - and that is something both the HEPC and the West Virginia Board of Education should be making a priority.