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Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

Invest in Preschoolers

Imagine if we could decrease the likelihood that our children would need special education, repeat grades, drop out of high school and enter into a life of crime at a young age. Suppose we could ensure a more qualified work force for San Diego’s future at the same time. And think of the possibilities if we could accomplish all this by investing in a voluntary preschool program that costs significantly less than the benefits we would accrue.

As home to some of the leading industries and businesses that will drive economic growth in the region for years to come, San Diego, and California as a whole, needs to ensure that it continues to produce the highly educated workers necessary to power the creative industries that will generate our future prosperity. A study recently released by the Rand Corp. provides insight on how to invest in those future employees who are needed for new jobs in growth sectors such as life sciences, telecommunications, software, electronics, defense and space. The answer is one that may surprise you , preschool.

According to the Rand study, providing 4-year-olds with a high-quality preschool education is an important determinant to success in secondary school and in their chosen career. By the time a child even reaches kindergarten, they will already have made significant inroads toward their lifelong potential to be educated, skilled and productive adults, so building a foundation for academic achievement early is critical.

In San Diego County alone, Rand reports that offering a voluntary, part-time preschool program to area families would annually lead to 1,005 fewer children retained in grade, 731 fewer high school dropouts and an increase of 2,154 child years of education.

Statewide, research results indicate that a quality preschool experience will result each year in 14,000 fewer children ever retained in grade and 10,000 fewer high school dropouts. And since these statistics apply only to each year’s group of eligible 4-year-olds, the results multiply tenfold in the course of a decade.

Research also reveals what many people who work with our children on a daily basis already know. An amazing 95 percent of California kindergarten teachers agree that students who participate in preschool have an advantage over their peers. In San Diego schools, in particular, an estimated 3,400 4-year-olds enter kindergarten each year at the 30 lowest-performing schools. Of these 3,400 children, nearly half do not have access to any of the district’s preschool programs. Statewide, California ranks 37th among the nation’s 50 states for 4-year-olds enrolled in even one year of preschool.

In San Diego County, Rand estimates that 44,000 4-year-old children will be eligible to attend preschool every year in the next 10 years, assuming their parents want to enroll them and a program is available. Yet, with approximately 50 percent of 4-year-olds not taking advantage of this opportunity, they will enter kindergarten less prepared than they otherwise could be.

The benefits of universal preschool are not solely social or educational. The new research shows that our local and state economies also reap the rewards. For every dollar invested into a quality preschool system for California’s 4-year-olds, California will be repaid an overwhelming $2.62 through these students’ own future contributions. That’s an incredible rate of return for any investment.

As the chief executive officer of a company devoted to higher education, I know that advanced credentials are no longer optional; they are required for career advancement and leadership in the high-tech organizations that will dominate our future. And our best bet for building a highly skilled work force down the road is to give our youngest Californians the greatest opportunities for success today.

As business leaders, we must recognize that universal preschool is just as much a part of cultivating our future employees as are the college years. The 4-year-olds who are learning their colors, shapes and letters right now are developing a foundation for learning that will enable them to lead our companies in the next generation.

Andrew Clark is CEO of Poway-based Bridgepoint Education, a higher education company that provides students with educational opportunities on-site and online as an alternative to universities.


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