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Center for American Progress

Fast Track to College: Increasing Postsecondary Success for All Students

Fast Track to College: Increasing Postsecondary Success for All Students

Renewing Our Schools, Securing Our Future

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Access to family-supporting jobs now requires education or training beyond high school, but college is becoming less affordable and the education “pipeline” from high school to and through college remains shockingly inefficient, despite the reform efforts of the past several decades. According to one study, for every hundred students who enter ninth grade, only eighteen will complete any kind of postsecondary degree within six years of graduating from high school. If current trends continue, the majority of American young people will not achieve the postsecondary credentials they need for full participation in society and the economy.

In an ideal world, if resources and capacity were no constraint, the United States would make 14 years of publicly funded education universal. In the real world, we cannot achieve the quantum leap in educational attainment that the nation needs without reconfiguring the use of time and money across the K-16 system.

It is time to reinvent the relationship between American high schools and postsecondary institutions so that every student has a chance to attend college and complete some kind of postsecondary credential (e.g., industry certificates, apprenticeships, Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees) by the age of 26. Specifically, the development of three “fast track to college” alternatives to the traditional high school senior year would enable students to get a head start toward the goal of education through grade 14:

  • An Academic Head Start on College;
  • An Accelerated Career/Technical College; and
  • A Gap Year, or College in the Community.

States would be the focal point for developing, testing, and refining these alternatives. The federal government would support state innovation by providing seed money and regulatory flexibility on a competitive basis over a six- to twelve-year time period. The goals would be to:

  • Increase the numbers of students who complete postsecondary credentials;
  • Reduce the time it takes them to do so; and
  • Eliminate disparities in educational attainment by race and income by the end of the decade.

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