June 13, 2012

Our view: Fifth high school year
good plan for Maine

The governor-backed transition from high school to college would help Maine families.

High school graduation is a mixed blessing for too many Maine families.

click image to enlarge

Portland High School held commencement exercises June 6. A high school diploma these days is just the start, and a fifth year of high school that enables students to earn credits toward a degree makes for a sensible transition.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

The end of 12th grade is an accomplishment, but one that does not mean much when it's time to look for a job unless the student plans to continue in school for a two-year or four-year degree. A high school diploma is really just a ticket to the starting line, not the end of the race.

That's why we join Gov. LePage in his praise of the Hermon Bridge Year Program, which uses an optional fifth year of high school to give kids a seamless entry into the job market.

Students in the program will be able to take advantage of a collaboration involving Hermon High School, United Technologies Center, the region's vocational school, Eastern Maine Community College and the University of Maine. At the end of the year, the student will walk away with a high school diploma as well as one year toward an associate degree, with a strong head start toward a degree that really matters.

This was an idea that LePage floated during his campaign for governor, and has been the focus of a task force that has been meeting since last year.

The group's work reaffirms LePage's contention that students would benefit from this option and also identifies the major obstacles.

Not many high schools would have access to the community college and university campus that Hermon enjoys. Transporting students to other schools for them to take college courses is one of the challenges, both as a matter of costs and logistics. But it is also one that can be addressed through video distance learning and scheduling classes in the evening or over weekends to better fit into a high school program. If there is enough interest, it may also work to transport the college-level instructor to teach a group of high school students all at once.

A much tougher obstacle will be paying for an optional fifth-year program, including the costs of books and college fees, but this too can be accomplished. The bottom line should be how well students are prepared to enter the work force when they receive their diploma. If a fifth year gets them ready for a good job, it is well worth the expense.

The cost of college, after all, is one of the major reasons Maine students don't stay in school long enough to get a two-year or a four-year degree. These kinds of programs would break that log jam.

The optional fifth year of high school is good idea for Maine, and the Hermon Bridge Year Program is a good start.


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