A key economic development challenge for state government is providing Maine workers with the kind of education they need to fill the more technical jobs that will be created and that exist now, unfilled.
That’s why Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal of an optional fifth high school year makes so much sense.
The model is the Bridge Year program in Hermon. There, high school students take community college classes during their junior and senior years, earning about one year of college credit. The next year, they go to college full time and receive a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time.
The idea is a “game changer,” said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, and one that is ready to be replicated in schools all over the state.
LePage included money for the program in the budget he submitted to the Legislature earlier this month.
The optional fifth year is something LePage has been talking about since his 2010 campaign. In 2011, he created a task force to study its implementation and it released a report last year. Unfortunately, it was not part of the package of education reforms that LePage pushed in 2012.
It is an important initiative for several reasons.
First, research by the George Mitchell Foundation has determined that new jobs are requiring a higher level of technical ability, even those in traditional industries such as agriculture and papermaking.
Maine students lag behind their New England counterparts in their attainment of higher education. The biggest impediments are families’ ability to afford college and a difficult transition to higher education, especially for people who are the first in their families to make the leap.
Combining high school and college could make the transition smoother, and making the bridge part of a high school education would produce less financial pressure on families.
The whole state would benefit when these students would enter the work force with a degree in hand, and a more educated work force would be an asset for anyone trying to attract a business to move to or expand in Maine.
The budget process promises to be messy, but we hope this idea survives and becomes an option for more Maine families.