The road to readiness

Graduation season has arrived, and with the accompanying recognitions of hard work, we have something else to celebrate: this year's passage and today's signing of the College Readiness and Completion Act of 2013. Never before has the state of Maryland established such clear, student-friendly statewide policies designed to help many more Marylanders earn the postsecondary credentials they will need to support themselves, their families and their communities.

Along with Sen. Richard Madaleno and Del. John Bohanan, who chair the General Assembly's budget subcommittees on education, we developed this comprehensive legislation to ensure that Maryland's students are ready for college and the work force — and really, life — after high school. Whether a student's goal is to enter the work force directly, attend a community college, go to a four-year institution, or complete postsecondary training to prepare for a hands-on or technical career, there are certain skills and knowledge that every student must learn in high school to be successful.

Maryland's public schools and colleges are highly regarded and a rightful source of pride. But this year, we looked the facts square in the eye and said "enough." Enough to nearly 60 percent of Maryland high school graduates who go directly to community college needing remediation when they enroll. Enough to students walking around our campuses with sometimes twice as many credits as they need — and still not having a college degree — while amassing huge amounts of student debt. Enough to fewer than half of our low-income, African-American and Hispanic students earning any college credential within six years of starting school.

After years of talking about the need to improve college and career readiness and educate more of our citizens for an increasingly high-skills economy, what made this year different? To start, we recognized that we can't afford to wait any longer. The new Common Core state curriculum is already being implemented to make sure students are gaining the knowledge and skills in English language arts/literacy and mathematics to be college and career ready. As new assessments come online to measure students' progress in meeting these challenges, we want Maryland to be prepared.

As stewards of the great public resources in this state, we take seriously the challenge to keep our economy growing, our standard of living high and our communities vibrant. This new law makes clear and binding Maryland's commitment to graduate many more students with a postsecondary credential.

Beginning this fall, students will have greater opportunities to dually enroll in public higher education while they are still in high school by not being charged tuition so they can get a leg up on earning college credit. Public higher education institutions must provide degree pathways for students immediately upon enrollment at community colleges and no later than 45 credits at four-year institutions; by 2015, four-year programs are to be standardized to 120 credits unless it's a five-year or professional program, and associate's programs will be standardized to 60 credits except for three-year or professional programs. In addition, by 2016-2017, students will know by the end of 11th grade whether they are college- and career-ready and must be given opportunities in 12th grade to get up to speed.

Under this legislation, Maryland must increase the percentage of working-age adults who hold a college degree from 45.4 percent to 55 percent. Our future economy will require many more credentialed workers. By 2018, two-thirds of jobs in Maryland will require some postsecondary education or training. Without the changes called for in this bill, we simply are not on track for success.

Throughout this process, we recognized the power of the budget and education policy committees working together. To do this, we went back to "school" ourselves. State officials including legislators, educators and staff have taken advantage of reform networks and nonpartisan research offered by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Southern Regional Education Board, Complete College America, Lumina Foundation's Strategy Labs, and others. Over the past two years, special hearings and subcommittee meetings gave legislators in both the education and budget committees the kind of information on college and career readiness, college completion and college affordability they needed to craft a historic bill like this one.

We also tip our hat to the leadership of Maryland's community colleges. The community colleges stood up for change and remained standing throughout the session.

Now the hard work of implementing the law begins. With the leadership of the Governor's P-20 Council, it is more critical than ever for K-12 and higher education to work together to create seamless pathways from high school to college and the work force and to eliminate barriers to success in high school and college completion. We look forward to working with them to ensure that Marylanders succeed.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky ( chairs the Senate's Education Subcommittee. Del. Anne R. Kaiser ( chairs the House of Delegates' Education Subcommittee.

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