When it comes to a high school education, there was a time when the words “five-year plan” would be viewed in a negative light.

Now, with the advent of the Advanced Diploma Program, those words take on a whole new meaning, and we can’t help but think that all college-bound high school students in Crook County should consider the five-year approach.

The program was embraced by Crook County High School and the students have demonstrated an interest in it as Oregon Department of Education statistics suggest. Based on their data, just 38 percent of the 2009 freshman class graduated in four years, the timeframe established for graduation rates.

This could be viewed as a troubling development unless one considers that many of those students will be back at the high school next year, working on year one of a college degree at little or no cost.

College has long been a considerable expense that is only growing as the years pass. Starting out at a community college, where tuitions are lower than most four-year schools, has become an attractive option. It’s hard to imagine that this ADP alternative wouldn’t become a hit with teens as well, since students could save thousands of dollars that first year of college.

Not only do they get a less expensive launch into college, they will have the benefit of ADP managers overseeing their progress and providing help as needed. Transitioning from high school to college can be a significant leap, and that extra help could prove invaluable as students navigate college courses.

The other point to make is that the ODE needs to embrace advanced diploma programs when it comes to high school graduation data. Right now, it rigidly counts graduation rates based on a four-year completion schedule. Consequently, districts that offer the five-year option end up looking bad, when in fact, they might be providing a better overall education for the student. As ADP manager Kate Worthing asked, “Are we working to change the culture about education, or are we just interested in measuring the graduation rates?”

So, as you look at the graduation rate reports, remember that the numbers don’t always do the school justice. Keep an eye on the money those five-year students save in college expenses. Those are the numbers that matter.

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