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I recently attended a conference devoted to college preparation. I left with an “eyes wide open” understanding of how much different the world is for our students than it was for previous generations.
When I decided to relay this information to our student body, one huge obstacle stood before me. I wondered, “How am I to change the normal thought of the average high school student?”
When I was in high school, my plans for the future could be summed up in this sentence: “I’ll do something, I’m just not sure what.”
Fortunately for me, and nearly every previous generation in this country (with the exception of the Great Depression era), I knew that I would find work because I had a plethora of opportunities. Then, our plans began with, “When I get a job” and not “If I get a job.”
Today, our children do not have this luxury. But to convey such a message to a group of “immortal” teenage students, I thought, would be nearly impossible. The information needed to be relevant; it needed to be real, and close to home for these students.
To begin with national trend data, I turn to a publication by the Educational Testing Service, titled “America’s Perfect Storm.”
The article states that, in 1950, 33.1 percent of jobs in America were in manufacturing. In 2003, only 10.7 percent were manufacturing jobs.
This information is not new to many of you. What it means, though, is it is now very difficult to financially sustain life with a minimal education. The corresponding chart (on Page 17) demonstrates the significant decline in lifetime earnings for those without some sort of post-secondary education.
Now, I’m not trying to suggest that all students must plan to attend top-tier, four-year colleges. Rather, I want to show how education, certification, and degrees beyond a high school diploma are almost a necessity for young people to find jobs to support themselves and, in the future, their families.
To localize the reality of our current economic position, I spent a day over Christmas break researching Monster.com (a vast online job and career database). I also contacted human resources personnel at North American Stainless, Gallatin Steel, Dow Corning, LG&E and Kentucky Utilities.
My research showed that, out of 763 jobs listed by Monster.com as available within about 50 miles of Bedford, high school graduates will qualify for only nine.
Locally, there were no jobs open at NAS – which, in 2004, hired 175 new employees. At Gallatin Steel, there is one job opening that requires a bachelor’s degree in engineering and another that requires previous work experience in electrical systems.
Dow Corning had no openings, and E.on-US (which owns LG&E and KU) has five jobs posted, four of which are based in Louisville and require a four-year college degree. The fifth was located in Richmond, Ky., and requires previous work experience.
Today, college readiness also means career readiness. While not every high school graduate plans to attend college, the majority of the fastest-growing jobs that require a high school diploma pay salaries that fall just above the poverty line for a family of four. Opportunities for career advancement require knowledge and skills that once were comparable to those expected of a first-year college student.
Technical schools, training and certification programs, two-year and four-year degrees, and beyond, all have one thing in common: The provide education beyond high school.
As a community, we must do everything we can to prepare our children for an increasingly difficult world. High school graduation cannot be an end, but just another step in the educational process of preparing young adults for the real world.
Stirling “Buddy” Sampson is principal of Trimble County High School.