From the Desk of Victoria Juarez

Fostering an interest in college among children has long been the province of high school teachers. Increasingly, however, educators are opting to begin the process much earlier, in some cases during the first years of elementary school. This is a welcome development.

The argument for bolstering college readiness is unassailable. We know that academic preparation strongly correlates with degree completion. That is, students who are better prepared are more likely to attend and finish college, while those less prepared are at increased risk of dropping out or forgoing college altogether.

We also know there are significant benefits to promoting the value of college among teenage students. Those who are taught and encouraged to envision themselves taking part in a postsecondary program of some sort are that much more likely to pursue college or vocational school.

Here is where an earlier start promises to pay lasting dividends. The logic is straightforward: inculcate an appreciation for the importance of college during students’ preteen and early teen years, so that by the time they get to high school they have begun to develop productive habits and are already planning academically and financially for a postsecondary education.

This approach is relatively new, with many tracing its origins to 2010’s Common Core Standards and the associated Obama-era mantra of “college and career ready.” There is already tantalizing anecdotal evidence that it is having the desired effect.

If such efforts are to succeed in producing focused, motivated, and academically capable college students, then partnerships and collaborations involving community groups and a range of educational institutions will likely have to be part of the equation. Educational continuity is the underlying concept after all.

We can see these kinds of synergies at work in our own communities. Bulldog Bound, for instance, seeks to create a college-going culture among fifth- through eighth- grade students attending elementary or junior high schools within the Allan Hancock Joint Community College District. The program introduces participants and their families to the college and its programs and services through outreach events.

The Scholarship Foundation has partnerships with several community organizations, including local chapters of the United Way and Girls Inc., whereby our program advisors help grade school and junior high students hone their academic skills while learning about the realities of college tuition and financial aid. Some participants come to us with a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of the latter, which would seem to indicate earlier classroom instruction on the matter or perhaps parental tutelage. In any case, it’s a good thing!

Some will argue that this earlier emphasis on college preparation is in effect robbing our children of their childhood, introducing pressures and anxieties they would otherwise not have to confront until later in their lives. I see things differently. If planting and gently nurturing the notion of college readiness earlier in life can be shown to result in greater prosperity and fulfillment in adulthood, how could we possibly not do it?

Versions of this commentary have appeared on Noozhawk and in the Santa Maria Times.