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As we take the time to reflect upon what we're most thankful for this holiday season, I am filled with gratitude whenever I get the chance to witness something truly remarkable. Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to attend Penn Foster's Scranton-based graduation and student meet-up event, orchestrated for 60 students and their 200+ family and friends. Our students have overcome some of the toughest obstacles and have faced myriad hardships throughout their lifetimes - yet have defied the odds and persevered in order to gain their education. Seeing the joy, the tears, the proud families and friends standing by as each of our graduates walked across the stage fills me with a sense of utter gratitude to have the privilege of being a small part of something meaningful.
Each year, the Penn Foster team has the opportunity to attend some of the most prestigious conferences in the career college and private postsecondary education space. This year, we rounded out our circuit with a quick succession of trips to the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools (CAPPS), Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and Career Colleges and Schools of Texas (CCST) conferences. After attending numerous sessions and speaking with attendees from various schools, it quickly became evident that the industry is shifting its indicators of success. Schools are placing more emphasis than ever on student outcomes, and are using new technologies to help them adapt to these new standards. Read on to discover what technologies schools are using to ensure improved student outcomes:
A simple, yet troubling rule of thumb drives enrollment to community colleges, for-profit colleges, and some four-year open-access institutions. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, employment and unemployment rates drive spikes in enrollment at these institutions, and play a much greater correlation than other population trends. It's a logical and consistent link: when unemployment rises, so do enrollments to community colleges. This is due to the fact that when people of low-income become unemployed, they are freed up to invest their time in higher education. When unemployment is down, low-income students do not have the luxury to go to school, because they have immediate monetary needs, and must go to work while employment is an option.
While most students don't apply to colleges until senior year, educators should encourage them to explore their options throughout their high school years. By introducing the different types of post-secondary education to students earlier, students are able to make a more informed decision on what to do after graduation. Here are three things that high schools can do throughout a student's four years to help them decide on what to do after graduation:
The ESL Academy at the University of Colorado Denver prepares students in English language fluency and helps these students pursue a degree upon completion of the ESL Academy program. As students progress in the ESL program, they are eligible to enroll in one or two courses on the main campus for credit. This concurrent enrollment in the ESL Academy and in a university course or two enables them to get a head-start on university academics while engaging in American cultural standards, building on-campus social connections and receiving support from the ESL staff1.
Earlier this week, the White House hosted its first ever summit on Next Generation High Schools, bringing together teachers, administrators, students, philanthropists, edtech companies, and entrepreneurs to discuss big, bold ideas on how to profoundly change the current state of our nation's public high school system. Attendees were invited to set aside the traditional schooling blueprint in order to make way for new, innovative educational models that puts the student first by empowering them through agile, creative, and endlessly relevant learning systems. 
Last week, Penn Foster had the opportunity to attend the 2015 National Job Corps Association (NJCA) Leadership Summit. The event, which brought together Job Corps leaders, policy makers, and partners from across the country, focused on the challenges and opportunities for Job Corps heading into 2016. Here are Penn Foster's top three takeaways from the event:
High school teachers prepare students for a successful future, one that usually includes going onto college or entering the workforce. Unfortunately, our teachers are doing this amid tough circumstances - increasing class sizes, diminished budgets, low pay, lack of parental involvement - all while preparing students for standardized tests and worrying about performance metrics.
The college completion agenda is picking up across the nation. States are seizing the opportunity to set new goals for increasing the number of citizens who hold postsecondary certificates or degrees. The ultimate aim of this initiative is to generate a more skilled, qualified and credentialed pool of candidates to infuse into the workforce, thereby creating a more robust and thriving economy. But is the standard for postsecondary education the right benchmark to be aiming for all citizens?
Although tuition costs continue to rise and student loan debt remains at sky-high levels, a college education still offers higher earning potential and greater financial opportunity in the long run. Yet without ways to help mitigate the extravagant costs, fewer families can afford to enroll their children in college. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a private, nonprofit, four-year university was $31,231 in 2015. For public four-year schools, tuition and fees accumulated to about $9,139 this year.1 American families and students still realize the long-term benefits of a college degree, which leaves many students and families forced to borrow funds to meet the steep costs. The total cost of borrowed funds from loan programs averages $100 billion a year, and the outstanding total student debt stands at more than $1.2 trillion. Forty million borrowers incur an average balance of $29,000, and with the average entry level position paying $42,963,2 and a high unemployment rate of 11.9 percent for recent college graduates ages 20-24,3 they are left holding debt with limited means to repay.4

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