There are times when the link between K-12 schools and higher education institutions can seem pretty thin. The institutions themselves are separate. They're structured very differently. School teachers and college professors train in disparate ways. Even the governing structures are different -- with K-12 and higher education often reporting into completely separate government entities with distinct policy agendas. This divergence creates significant challenges for Hobsons as we position ourselves to be a P-20 company, and it's made it hard for us to find meaningful P-20 connections that go beyond simply helping high school students search for colleges and majors.

With the start of 2014, though, it's worth taking another look at the link between K-12 and higher education ... and there are some encouraging signs of convergence. For more than a decade, U.S. policymakers have held K-12 schools accountable to improving academic proficiency for all students -- first referred to as No Child Left Behind and now more often framed as college and career readiness. This type of external accountability is new for U.S. higher education, but it's coming quickly. The U.S. Department of Education has introduced a scorecard that enables students to compare cost, graduation rate, loan default rate, student borrowing, and employment outcomes for colleges they're considering. There is a legitimate debate about whether other factors also need to be considered to provide a rounded view of each institution and of the value of education in general, but this type of transparency is similar to the scorecards that are now common for public schools and districts. Policymakers are also suggesting that higher education institutions with high default rates -- a proxy for students who achieve a poor return on their education investment -- will face clawbacks of federal aid.

Transparency and accountability for higher education are a start, but the next step will be to ensure that there's alignment between the accountability measures we're using in K-12 and in higher education to create a more seamless pathway for student success. There, too, we see some progress. Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to increase college and career readiness for high school graduates, and even those that haven't are taking steps to ensure students who graduate from high school are adequately prepared for college level work. Working groups in many states are bringing together school teachers, college professors, and policymakers to align K-12 and post-secondary curricula. Data systems are enabling researchers to track student progress from school to college and into the workforce. A wide array of technology options now exist for students to learn outside of traditional classrooms. And, probably most important, educators at all levels are recognizing the increasing power and responsibility students have for shaping their own education -- owning their learning and the results.

With increased transparency and accountability across all levels of education, with alignment in curriculum and infrastructure, and with a growing consensus about what constitutes a successful student experience, Hobsons is in a great position to help the millions of students and educators we serve across thousands of institutions in some new ways. We can help students plan a lifetime of education opportunities in the context of what they hope to achieve. We can help them personalize their daily experience in class, supplement their education where they struggle, and monitor their progress. Even as the range of choices students face becomes more complex, we have an opportunity to provide simplicity. When we think of Hobsons five years from now, K-12 and HE convergence in the market presents some exciting possibilities.


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