Students in New Mexico would have to apply to a college or commit to some other post-graduation plan in order to graduate from high school, under a bill working its way through the state’s legislature.
If it became law, New Mexico would be the first state in the nation to require its students to spell out what they’re doing after high school.
“Requiring students to do that would be unique in the nation; no other state in the nation has done that,” said Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and STEM for the Education Commission of the States, an education policy think tank based in Colorado.
The bill states that high school juniors would have to file a plan showing they’re applying for admission to a college, taking steps to enter the military or preparing for an internship or apprenticeship.
The plan would be filed with the high school principal and the student’s parents and guidance counselor would have to sign off on it.
New Mexico, at 71%, has the second-worst high school graduation rate in the country, the Albuquerque Journal reported, citing data from the US Department of Education. The bill’s sponsors hope the bill will spur an uptick in that number.
But does requiring students to file such plans really push them to the graduation finish line? Zinth told CNN it may make a positive difference in how many students graduate, but she cautions states need to be aware of unintended consequences and the hurdles it may produce for students and their families.
Guidance, matches, financial aid
“It’s one of those wait and see moments,” said Zinth, who wrote about the pros and cons of requiring students to fill out college applications in a report for the Education Commission of the States in 2014. “It may work for some students, but there’s some things New Mexico would have to think about.”
Zinth said schools in New Mexico and other states considering such a move would need to beef up their guidance counselor staffs and offer students more help in filling out applications, because the applications would probably not be of very high quality without proper guidance.
“It would really be beneficial for students to get some assistance on that to make sure the essays are high quality,” she said.
Schools would also need to make sure that students are properly matched with the college that best suits them. When schools don’t pay attention to that, Zinth said, a lot of lower-income students end up in community colleges when they actually are good candidates for competitive, four-year institutions.
And finally, Zinth said states need to think about financial aid if students are accepted to college.
“Applications are but one challenge. Completing financial aid applications is the other. Without assistance with financial aid forms, even middle-income students under application-for-all policies may apply and be accepted to institutions they are unable to afford,” she wrote in her 2014 report.
Starting in 2020, Chicago will require high school students to provide evidence that they have a plan after graduation: either acceptance to college or a gap-year program, a trade apprenticeship, military enlistment or a job offer.