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Where Talent Meets Career Opportunity

The "skills marketplace" is complex and rapidly changing; this contributes to an imbalance of supply and demand of labor and has different implications across various segments of the workforce. Arguably, the group most impacted by changes is the adult-youth workforce-as of June 2013, only 43.6 percent of those 18 to 29 years old were employed full-time, even as overall unemployment has improved to 6.1 percent. This performance is a significant milestone because six-and-a-half years after the Great Recession began the U.S. economy has finally surpassed its pre-crisis employment peak, and yet millions of young adults are struggling. Most worrisome, an unbundling of the youth-adult job market highlights this is not a single cohort, but instead among the most extreme example of "Haves" and "Have-Nots" among workforce peer groups.
Non-traditional students are the new norm on many college campuses. Only as few as 16 percent of college students today fit the so-called "traditional" mold: 18-22 years old, financially dependent on their parents, in college full time and living on campus, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.1 For career colleges, non-traditional students make dream candidates. Adult students go back with a goal in mind. Whether they are seeking career advancement or skills training, non-traditional students are driven by purpose.
The economy is continuing its slow recovery from the 2008 collapse as the average industry has increased its workforce by just over 1 percent since 2002. Though overall job growth has been sluggish, it doesn't mean job growth isn't occuring -- it's just not evenly distributed. Some job sectors, like healthcare and construction, are actually thriving.1 With this sector specific job growth, many new high school graduates are forgoing the traditional four-year college experience in hopes of jumping right into the higher growth employment markets. The Census Bureau reported that 463,000 fewer people were enrolled in college between 2012 and 2013, making it the second year enrollment has fallen by that much, bringing the two-year total to 930,000 fewer college students.1 However, attempting to pursue a career path without industry recognized skills training or certification often leads to frustration, lower wages and frequent job changes. How should high school graduates not directly entering a four year college and focused on employment in high growth sectors approach this path ahead?
Yesterday, Penn Foster, in collaboration with America's Promise, hosted a virtual discussion: Don't Call them Dropouts: A Conversation About "Non-Completes" and What it Takes to Raise Graduation Rates. We were proud to be joined by  moderator, Jon Zaff, Executive Director of Center for Promise and panelists Ray McNulty, Chairman of Penn Foster High School Board; Chairman of National Dropout Prevention Center Network, Elayne Bennett, President & Founder, Best Friends Foundation, and Beth Reynolds, National Dropout Prevention Center Network . Key points discussed include the power of adversity, resiliency and connection, how the education system can change and adapt to the needs and challenges of these students, and the barriers students are facing to re-enter school after taking time off. 
The current labor market "skills gap" translates into more than 4 million jobs annually going unfilled, and stems from an imperfect match of supply and demand for critical talent in growing sectors of the economy.
Tomorrow, Saturday September 27, 2014,  we celebrate American Graduate Day. Now in its third consecutive year,  the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and America's Promise Alliance,  will lead this public media initiative to help communities bolster graduation rates and combat the high school dropout crisis.
After donning the cap and gown, what comes next for high school graduates?
Just because they did not complete high school does not mean they cannot be successful in college.  In many cases, the high school dropout population has the motivation and incentive to regain control of their learning and career building, but lack an on-ramp to gain affordable access to higher education. An on-campus High School Completion (HSC) program provides a platform for prospective career college students who were previously turned away because they didn't complete high school. Hear the story of how one student's life changed when she got the opportunity to earn her high school diploma.
Since the 2008 implementation of the Penn Foster Dropout Retrieval program, thousands of organizations, communities and people have seen results from this educational opportunity. Success stories such as the Polk County School District-where more than 700 students got a second chance at high school graduation-pave the way for future partnerships. The program's proven results, marked by 82 percent graduation rate and 96 percent student satisfaction rates, gave way to another winning partnership with the Scranton School District.

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