After decades of stagnation, our country has seen very significant gains in high school graduation rates, reaching an all-time high of 82.3 percent in 2015. Over the past dozen years, an additional 2 million young people have graduated and gotten the chance to build a better life.
However, the pace of increase has slowed in the past two years. And while students of color, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities have made the biggest gains, sobering gaps remain, including a huge gap in the skills kids are getting in school and the skills needed for today’s workforce.
Interactive Map: State graduation rate data and opportunities for action
One national campaign aimed at getting students the support they need to graduate as well as early exposure to work and college life is GradNation.
GradNation helps provide those working to increase high school graduation rates with the data, best practices and opportunities to connect and learn from one another. Their goal: to increase the nation’s on-time high school graduation rate to 90% for the class of 2020.
The economic impact of meeting that goal is huge. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a 90% graduation rate would likely create more than 65,000 new jobs and boost gross domestic product by $11.5 billion annually. And that’s for just one high school class.
In order to do that, GradNation says we must close the gaps in the graduation rates of Black/African-American students, Hispanic/Latino students, English-language learners, low-income students & students with disabilities.
GradNation has been working with individual states and communities to improve their numbers. Currently, the campaign has partnered with Pearson for high-intensity engagements in Arizona, Massachusetts and Minnesota. In each of those states, the project targets a specific student group that is lagging in graduation rates.
WorkingNation spoke with John Gomperts, the President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, the organization behind GradNation, about the campaign’s efforts in these states.
“In Minnesota, the focus is on raising graduation rates of students of color. And that graduation rates has improved 13.1% over the past four years.
“In Arizona, mayors have come together to press for greater engagement. The Steps to Success program in which the Tucson Unified School District, the City of Tucson and the Mayors’ Roundtable collaborated along with community to seek students who had left school before graduation. Leaders from every sector knocked on their doors and helped students get back on track.
“And our Center for Promise will release a report on the experience of students whose first language is not English (FLNE) in Massachusetts, which is a cornerstone of the state’s effort to increase graduation rates among English language learners.”
Gomperts says we need to apply a “high expectations and high support” approach to help students thrive. Give young people a rigorous education, and expect them to perform well while at the same time, recognize that their lives are often complicated by non-school and non-academic circumstances.
“It’s important to remember that the remedy doesn’t just fall in the laps of educators in schools. Young people deserve a holistic approach from community members. Tutoring students, volunteering with local youth-centered organizations and just being present in the lives of young people can significantly benefit the lives of young people.”
GradNation has been focusing on what young people have to say and want from their educational experience, especially from those who have struggled to finish school. One young woman at a GradNation Community Summit in Wake County, North Carolina explained what would help kids like her succeed in school.
“As a student, I’m told where I need to go, but not how to get there. What kids like me really need is guidance. We need a community that is supportive and open to students. We need a community that understands that most kids are very eager to learn and are desperately waiting for inspiration to ignite within themselves.”
In helping students with the next step—finding a job or moving on to college—Gomperts says young people need early and frequent exposure to what work and college opportunity looks like along with lots of guidance and support.
“In order to see themselves in the workplace or in college, young people need to see what those opportunities look like. That isn’t a one day career or college day at school, it means multiple opportunities to explore the world of work and get a feel of what college is like.”
Campaigns like GradNation from organizations like America’s Promise Alliance are integral to not only advancing national conversations on how to improve the educational experiences of young people and prepare them for today’s workforce, but putting solutions into practice. For more solutions-based organizations and programs WorkingNation has highlighted, click here.