College Applications as High School Graduation Requirement

New Mexico legislation seeks to require high school students to apply to at least one college.

February 5, 2018
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Despite all the talk about viewing education as preK-16, in many respects education operates in separate systems. Students earn high school diplomas, and then some go on for a higher education.

An idea attracting growing interest from some politicians and educators would seek to make the transition from high school to college more seamless. The idea is to make applying to a college a requirement for receiving a high school diploma.

Legislation proposed (jointly by Democratic and Republican lawmakers) in New Mexico would make that state the first with such a statewide requirement. College enrollment in the state has been dropping, and the lawmakers believe that the act of applying would let some students realize that they could find good opportunities in higher education. They hope that students also realize -- by applying for aid -- that they can afford some postsecondary education. The requirement could be fulfilled by applying to either a two-year or four-year college in the state. Students who can show that they have a job after high school graduation, or have committed to join the military or an apprenticeship program, would be exempt.

State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, one of the sponsors of the legislation, told the Associated Press, "There’s a reason we call graduation commencement, because it’s the beginning of their future. Let’s take that seriously."

While New Mexico would be the first state with such a requirement, some individual high schools already do this. Likewise last year, the City of Chicago -- at the urging of Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- adopted such a requirement, with similar exemptions.

Not everyone applauds the idea. An article in National Review was critical. "Honestly, there are a lot of reasons why this is stupid. For one thing, we now live in a society where you can be a very dumb YouTube star and earn lots of money and fame, despite being painfully uneducated. Who’s to say that one of these kids ain’t going to be the next one of those?" the article said.

"All joking aside, requiring students to make a choice about their post-graduate plans so early could lead some of them to make the wrong decisions. The truth is, not every kid knows exactly what they want to do when they grow up when they’re a high-school junior, and that’s perfectly okay. Maybe some of them know that they don’t know, and they’d like to spend a year or so trying to figure it out before saddling themselves with life-altering amounts of debt."

Defenders of the idea note that the proposal isn't to require enrollment, but only application. Further, those most likely to be influenced (those currently not going to college) may be more likely attracted to community colleges or other public institutions where there are opportunities for many students that do not involve the necessity of large student loans.

One of the oldest such efforts is a program in Texas that Inside Higher Ed covered in 2006. There, the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District -- which has a large Latino population -- made applying to (but not enrolling in) Austin Community College a requirement. In a single year, the percentage of students at San Marcos who went on to Texas colleges and universities jumped 11 points, to 45 percent.


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