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Christine Frazier

The economic and civic well-being of any community requires a well-educated citizenry. It's great news, then, that roughly 3 out of 4 California high school graduates enroll in a postsecondary institution within 16 months of graduation, according to the California Department of Education. While Kern County lags behind the state average, valiant efforts are being made to move the needle.

Socioeconomic disadvantages and a disproportionate number of households where no one has attended college before are among the leading factors that contribute to this educational gap.

Enter our local teachers, high school counselors, college outreach specialists and other educators. They are the professionals who work diligently to promote a college-going culture in our community and collaborate with parents to instill in our youth that going to college is within reach. Their efforts should be commended.

For a progress report, just look to Cal State Bakersfield. The university has seen record first-time freshman enrollment each of the past two fall terms, despite tuition increases that plague public institutions thanks to the state's drastic disinvestment in higher education.

There are also countless programs that target underserved populations in Kern County that are administered by area colleges. Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) at Bakersfield College and Taft College serves to encourage the enrollment, retention and transfer of students that are handicapped by language, socioeconomic and educational disadvantages. At CSUB, the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) is designed to increase the number of low-income and first-generation students attending college. There is also a program that assists students whose parents are migratory or seasonal farmworkers, and another that targets foster youth.

Some may argue that an expectation of college as a natural progression after high school should come from the family, rather than from the school. But in a community where higher education is often foreign territory in many households, collaboration and education is many times most impactful when it starts outside the home.

An integral component of this outreach is the annual Kern County College Night, which takes place Monday at the Rabobank Convention Center. Here, an expected attendance of more than 6,000 local students and their parents will be afforded the unique opportunity to meet with representatives from more than 100 colleges, universities, trade schools and the armed forces who will provide their insight, talk to students about the importance of continuing their education after high school, answer questions and help debunk myths about some of the perceived hurdles of going to college -- most notably about finances, the application process and general admission requirements. There will be information sessions offered in both English and Spanish.

College graduates -- whether they matriculate at a local community college, CSUB, or one of the many local trade colleges or privates -- are an essential piece of our community puzzle. We simply need more of them. They are our teachers, medical professionals, business owners, public servants and so many other professions that help make up the educated local workforce.

A well-educated citizenry brings with it many perks -- things that benefit everyone in our community. College grads make more money over their working lifetime, spurring the local economy. They are less likely to commit crimes and more likely to be active in society.

As a community, we must continue to find ways to improve our college-going rate. This must go well beyond educators and parents doing their part. Everyone in the community must chip in. After all, when our students succeed, we all succeed.

Christine Lizardi Frazier became the Kern County superintendent of schools in 2009. Her appointment came after working in public education for more than 30 years as a teacher, school principal, assistant superintendent and school district superintendent. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.