The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Kevin Skelly

Kevin Skelly

College of San Mateo and the San Mateo Community College District came into being more than 90 years ago as an outgrowth of the San Mateo Union High School District. Thus began a partnership to serve young adults in our communities. Today, almost half the high school graduates from the school district continue their post-secondary studies at one or more of the community college district’s campuses. We are working hard to make this vital partnership stronger in important ways.

First, we are working to find ways to make the journey from high school to community college simpler. The transition from high school to community college takes place at the most difficult, challenging time in a young person’s life. When so much is changing, students need clear paths, quality information and simplicity to make the transition successful. The high school district’s schools are now sponsoring tours, during class time, for students to visit campuses, register for classes and orient themselves to the college campuses. And college staff is spending more time on our campuses helping their future students.

Far too many high school students start their post-secondary classes in remedial classes. In our work together, we have devised multiple measures of high school student success with the goal that all of the high school district’s students can take unit-generating classes their first day on a community college district campus. The college district is testing ways to make classes of varying length to account for differences in academic preparation. For example, less-prepared students would have freshmen English classes of five units, while their more prepared counterparts would take a three-unit course.

Ron Galatolo

Ron Galatolo

At the high school level, the high school district team is articulating with the college district’s math departments to create classes on our campuses for seniors that allow them to immediately enter college courses. Studies repeatedly show that students who take math during their senior year of high school are much more successful in college, and we believe this is particularly true if their math courses are closely tethered to future college math expectations.

A little known fact about community college enrollment is that it is inversely related to the economic climate; students are less likely to go to college when jobs are plentiful. For our high school students from modest means, the chance to earn even minimum wage to help support one’s family is alluring. Further, in our tight job market, employers of low-wage workers want employees to put in long hours to fill shifts. Both these forces crowd out college studies and, we believe, can also deprive students of the opportunities down the line to earn a middle-class income.

Experience has taught us that if you haven’t invested in education and skill building by your mid-20s, it becomes progressively more difficult. For this reason, the college district is finding ways to provide a tuition free experience for its students from the most modest means. It isn’t easy to be young, burdened by family responsibilities, and lacking the luxury to take the “long view.” We need to be a community that helps young people see the value of learning during their prime educational years.

The high school and community college districts are also exploring ways we can encourage more students to get a jump on college while they are in high school. We believe that a student who finishes high school with six to 12 college units completed is much more likely to attend and complete the 60 college units community college requires for a degree. And college study is free when you are a high school student. Given the astronomical cost of college, an early start on college may be the best thing educators can do to help control college costs.

The high school district has a relatively small “middle college” program that allows high school juniors and seniors to finish high school on the college campuses while beginning their post-secondary studies we are anxious to expand. Typically, these students finish a year of college by the time they graduate from high school.

In today’s society, we live in a time when there are a seemingly infinite number of ways to improve the educational experiences and, through this work, the economic fortunes of our community’s young people. Our hope is that through more collaborative, cooperative work between our two organizations we can do much that will help send students on their way to a bright future.

Kevin Skelly is the superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District, a position he began in 2015. Ron Galatolo has been the chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District since 1999.