MO career college prep program expands statewide / Public News Service

An increasing number of jobs in Missouri require some level of training or education beyond high school, but rural students are less likely than their urban or suburban peers to enroll in and complete college.

The RootEd Alliance wants to change that, bringing professional counselors into school districts to supplement the work guidance counselors are already doing. They can focus on student opportunities after graduation, from a work card or bachelor’s degree to the military.

Hal Higdon, president of Ozarks Technical Community College, a rootEd partner, said it is expanding from having counselors at just eight schools to 135 statewide.

“A lot of our rural students are first-generation, so they don’t have a mom or dad who’s already been through the college process — it can seem very daunting,” Higdon said. “What we see is that students with no plans have plans, students with plans have even better plans. And then quite a few go into the military as well.”

Higdon added that college attendance rates increased at all schools associated with rootEd. National college enrollment numbers were down in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels, but up 7% at schools with a rootEd advisor.

Noa Meyer, president of the rootEd Alliance, noted that the statewide expansion will serve 15,000 students or more. She explained that learning what is available, filling out financial aid forms and identifying the right option takes time and experience.

“The guidance counselors are doing a great job helping students with a wide variety of issues they face,” Meyer said. “And as a result, they don’t have as much time to help students with the plans they need to develop for life after high school.”

Higdon emphasized that Missouri faces real labor shortages across industries, arguing that now is the time for high school graduates to develop skills to get good-paying jobs in their communities.

“The need for skilled workers, from Allied Health to plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, advanced manufacturing, it’s all there,” Higdon said. “And those students in rural areas are fantastic employees, so we have to connect them to the workforce not just in Missouri, but in every state.”

Support for this report was provided by the Lumina Foundation.

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