A plan to rescue "the neglected majority" of high school students who are not college bound is being polished by community college trustees during a three-day convention beginning here today.
The "Tech-Prep" plan would forge bonds between high schools and community colleges so students -- beginning as early as ninth grade -- would receive counseling about higher education options that could lead to vocational and technical jobs. The program is aimed mainly at those students who do not want to pursue a four-year college degree.
"We need to roll up our sleeves and help the schools of the country," said Dale Parnell, president of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, in a recent interview. "Community colleges have not been very prominent in the school-reform movement and it's time we helped more students develop the application of their education."
Parnell was scheduled to address the Association of Community College Trustees at the Convention Center this afternoon.
Tech-Prep is a strategy devised by Parnell in a book called, "The Neglected Majority." The concept emerges from a belief that 50 percent of high school students are "falling through the cracks" because they are not college-bound. These students often fall off a progressive educational track around the ninth grade, Parnell said.
Parnell's idea is based on a curriculum that offers pre-college classes to students who choose careers they can start after they earn a two-year associate degree from a community college. The curriculum, which includes job counseling, is shaped by high school and community college administrators.
Tech-prep has been instituted in about 34 states, including Maryland.
In this state, about $150,000 in federal and state funds have helped form an alliance among schools in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties and Charles County Community College.
Another tech-prep program aimed at a two-year biotechnology degree is offered at Montgomery County Community College's Germantown campus. A tech-prep program also is planned at the New Community College of Baltimore in conjunction with the Baltimore City school system.
"This is a strong career development focus to start students early," said Andrea L. Smith, Charles County Community College's dean for career and technological education. "The problem is there are so many students who, when they graduate from high school, are not prepared to get a job. They are left in limbo, they have no marketable skills."
Smith said the Southern Maryland program is designed to offer students careers in health and human services, business and management and engineering. She estimates that about 30 percent of the high school students in the three counties will enroll in the program.
Parnell said he planned to tell the 1,600 community college trustees from around the country today that more tech-prep programs should be established with the aid of a $125 million federal grant.
"Establishing this kind of program is part of our business," he said. "We are the major deliverer of technical education in the United States, and that's our mission. I don't think we have helped our high schools enough."
The convention also is focusing on literacy issues and changing community college curriculums to better serve the 10 million students nationwide who attend the two-year institutions. Author Studs Terkel is scheduled to address a banquet Saturday afternoon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.