Over the past several weeks, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education has held hearings on a wide variety of issues ranging from school accountability to college and career readiness, and more. In line with our advocacy approach, American Student Assistance provided oral and written testimony in support of several pieces of legislation intended to change state government systems and structures to allow students, as young as middle school, to explore a full range of education and career opportunities, pursue education after high school, and attain credentials they will need for career success.
ASA believes career and technical education (CTE) at the middle and high school level provides students with critical hands-on learning opportunities so they can explore different potential occupations and devise a post-high school plan based on their passions, skills and interests. Together, H.3756 and S.302 would bring needed attention, funding and support to Massachusetts CTE, and we support both of these bills.
As we all know, high school graduation is a critical milestone to achieving higher education and career success. H.550 and S.241 would establish pilot programs to test innovative strategies like “success mentors” to better support at-risk youth and ensure their persistence to graduation, while H.416 would create a commission to explore the multifaceted barriers to high school graduation. In addition, S.304 would provide needs-based financial assistance to help high school students in Massachusetts “gateway” communities enroll in the Commonwealth Dual Enrollment Partnership (CDEP).
ASA supports programs like dual enrollment and early college that provide students a leg-up on college and career planning, give them confidence to know they can succeed in a post-secondary program, and potentially save them time and money in the long run. That’s why we also support H.3604, which would implement a study of online courses offered as part of a dual enrollment program. Through this program, dual enrollment providers can leverage digital technology to help alleviate the costs associated with providing instruction, as well as offer students with limited transportation options a convenient method of class participation.
When it comes to making a higher education decision, it can be a complicated process to navigate. Both students and parents alike say they rely on a school counselor’s expertise and knowledge to help guide them through the college financing process, but many counselors are not properly prepared to help students understand the financial impact of their college decision. H.537 would help students make more intentional choices about their post-secondary education by ensuring school counselors receive adequate training relative to financial aid. But while we know it’s important to help prepare students for two- or four-year college, we also know an associate’s or bachelor’s degree are not the only paths to good jobs with family-sustaining wages. That’s why we also support H.567, which would reward Massachusetts schools with additional funding for each student who earns an industry-recognized credential while still in high school, especially in high-demand occupations.
Once students enroll in higher education, there are still some obstacles to overcome. Throughout ASA’s long history, we often saw students who were coming to us too late to mitigate the debt situation they found themselves in, and we had too many conversations that included phrases like, “I wish I had known,” or “I wish I hadn’t borrowed so much.” We believe legislation like H.43 and H.1210, which would establish pilot programs to provide in-school college students with estimates of their total student loan debt and monthly repayment amounts, will go a long way toward empowering enrolled students with more information earlier on so they can see more clearly their financial investment in higher education, understand the long-term implications, and make any changes in their plans as needed. Our experience has taught us that financial literacy counseling for college students and uniform financial aid shopping sheets, as proposed in H.1224, are crucial to ensuring transparency around college costs for students and parents.
Finally, S.762 and H.1206 would require all Massachusetts public colleges to grant credit for a score of three or higher on the College Board Advanced Placement exams. Through ASA’s Talent Search, Upward Bound and GEAR UP programs at several high schools in Boston and Brockton, as well as our community walk-in centers, our counselors have seen students fail to earn credit for their hard work in AP classes. The proposed legislation would require public institutions to post their AP credits policy on their webpage, which would help ensure that deserving students across the Commonwealth receive equal reward for their efforts, and would guarantee a higher level of transparency around colleges’ admissions and enrollment procedures. For many students, college represents one of the biggest investments of their lives, and they deserve to understand before they enroll whether the time and money spent on an AP class is going to be counted.
Combined, these bills will help ensure Massachusetts students are well-prepared to navigate multiple pathways through post-secondary education to the jobs of the future, thereby creating a highly educated and skilled workforce to drive our economy. As legislators in Massachusetts and states across the country debate important issues around college and career preparedness, experiential learning and post-secondary education funding, ASA’s advocacy team looks forward to being part of the conversation with important observations based on our experience and research.
Read our testimony in its entirety here.