How to build an educated workforce

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Today's cover story explains why businesses are investing more each year in college educations for their employees: It builds productivity, and it can boost loyalty, too.

But employer generosity is not the tactic on which everyone is willing to rely. In Texas, for example, state comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander last week put forward this proposal: that the state pay tuition for two years of college for every high school graduate who wants to attend. "I want Texas to have the most educated workforce in the nation," she said.

Her opponent in the election this fall calls it a gimmick, but the idea has amplified the conversation about college accessibility.

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Likewise, a school district in Los Angeles is taking an unorthodox approach to prodding its soon-to-be high school graduates toward more education. Seniors at eight schools have to develop a plan for college, a trade school, or the military – or they won't be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony.

The point, the superintendent told a columnist, is to foster high expectations and make sure these students – many of whom would be the first in their families to attend college – are talking to counselors about their futures. He says the college-application rate is way up.

His use of the "stick" rather than a "carrot" is controversial, but a recent report by the American Council on Education may indicate he's on to something. It found that at-risk students are more likely to apply to college if their friends plan to go (www.acenet.edu/).

Now, if only he could get California to implement Ms. Rylander's plan, students who say they need to work before college wouldn't have to delay the educational part of joining the "educated workforce."

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