State mulls college readiness commission

By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter

A lack of college readiness in many Alaska students has prompted Sen. Gary Stevens to sponsor a bill that would create an educational advisory task force. The task force called for in Senate Bill 221would study what works and what doesn’t work in Alaska’s K-12 school system in an effort to improve post-high school performance.  In particular, Stevens is interested in improving Alaska’s comparatively low college graduation rate.

“Kids from the upper quartile [of family income] graduate from college at a rate of about 85 percent.  You can’t stop them graduating.  But kids from the lower quartile only graduate at a rate of about 55 percent,” Stevens said.  Stevens went on to say, “The job of the task force is to identify what primary and secondary schools need to do. We know why students don’t do well in college, and often it has to do with preparation.”  Stevens said that his bill was modeled after a similar law that was passed in Arkansas.  He used that state’s law as a model when drafting his bill.

Saichi Oba, the associate vice president of Student and Enrollment Services for the University of Alaska, said it wasn’t just about college students. “I believe the intent of the task force is to determine how well all high school students perform after graduating,” he said, whether they go on to college, trade school, the military, or the civilian workforce.  Oba also said that you can’t really look at the successes and failures of the university system without “peeling back the onion” and looking at high school, middle school, and even elementary school performance.

Should the bill pass, members of the task force will include the governor, the university president, the chairs of both the House and Senate Education Committees, and a number of others.  Stevens said that he wasn’t concerned about the committee being too large, as he welcomed more voices in the discussion.  Stevens even said that he hoped to have students at both the college and high school level present during meetings.

The bill is currently sitting in the Senate Finance Committee, after passing through the education committee with unanimous consent.  Stevens said he hasn’t encountered any opposition to the bill from his colleagues in the house or senate and that he expects the bill to pass.  Once passed, the task force would be formed immediately and would meet roughly six times over the course of a year.  At the conclusion of the year, the task force would submit its findings to the state.

Stevens is hopeful that this task force will help point the way towards improved college graduation rates, which right now, Stevens said, are “a crying shame.”

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