This was originally published on Medium.com.
By Frank Britt, CEO at Penn Foster
When President Obama announced recently that America’s high school graduation rate has reached a record new high of 83.2 percent, it was a proud moment for those involved in education policy in Washington. No doubt the celebration was brief though, because the President and his team, as well as members of Congress, know that more must be done.
While the high school graduation rate has risen steadily over time, what we and others who serve students have seen is that it is more important than ever to prepare students for college and careers after graduation. It also means not giving up on the remaining 16.8% of students who don’t graduate from high school as part of their traditional age cohort.
In making his announcement, President Obama highlighted investments and resources available for students not just to get their high school diploma, but also to earn a degree beyond high school. He spoke of all his Administration has accomplished to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for America’s learners, from cradle through career. Yet he also reflected on the work that must continue, as we collectively strive to ensure that every student has the chance to succeed in a 21st century economy.
As a recent report by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) confirms, high school dropouts are up against rising challenges in the global job market, and their opportunities may not increase with an improving economy. Researchers found that 44% of young people who haven’t completed high school are not in education, employment, or training. That’s compared with only 12% of those with a college degree.
Not only is there a personal benefit to students when they complete high school, there is an overall benefit to the U.S. economy. The math is straightforward: someone with a high school degree earns an average of $250,000 more over the course of his or her lifetime than an individual who drops out of high school. To project that out, and keep the numbers simple, 40,000 high school grads making an average of $250,000 more in their lifetimes brings a total of $10 billion more in earned income to the economy.
With numbers like that at stake, and personal success stories in the balance, it’s no wonder that students, employers and partner organizations rely on organizations such as Penn Foster to build the skills and knowledge to power the 21st century workforce.
And while that work starts by supporting students in achieving their high school diploma, we are gratified that we can provide career pathways for Opportunity Youth and adult learners through diverse and affordable programs, offered not just for high school completion but also for career school and college. With more than 40,000 annual graduates, Penn Foster’s online and blended learning programs are delivered in a self-paced model wrapped by strong academic, professional and personal support.
So even as we commend the graduates at our schools, we shouldn’t forget the educational needs of those who are dropping out somewhere along the journey to achieving their high school diploma, certificate, associates’ degree, or college degree. It all starts with the 16.8% who must take that critical step of earning their high school diploma. They are part of our American community, and it is up to each of us to help them reach their full potential. It is then, and only then, that we can truly celebrate.
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