Missouri, Illinois join project to help teens into workforce | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri, Illinois join project to help teens into workforce

Jun 19, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 19, 2012 - Missouri and Illinois are among six states chosen to take part in a nationwide program designed to help teens complete high school, then find their way to training that will lead to a good job.

Both states will be taking part in the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Jobs for the Future. Chris Nicastro, commissioner of education for Missouri, said the program is particularly needed in this time of persistent high unemployment.

“We believe all Missouri high school graduates need post-secondary education,” she said, “whether that’s a degree or career training for successful productive lives.

“They need to graduate twice. Participation in the Pathways to Prosperity Network will help our children find opportunities to learn from the local businesses where they will work.”

Added Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education in Illinois:

“This is about schools and businesses working together to provide greater guidance and options so our young people can make smart choices as they complete high school and move on to post-secondary education and jobs that will better support them and the Illinois economy. This is a proven strategy for keeping students engaged in high school and mindful of their future.”

Besides the bi-state region, the program will include Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Tennessee. It grew out of a report from Harvard last year that argued students need additional pathways to success that combine rigorous academics with strong technical education.

In Illinois, the program will focus initially on schools in Chicago and Aurora, but eventually officials hope to create a statewide system of career pathways.

In Missouri, the effort will concentrate at first on the St. Louis area before expanding statewide. It will be led by Kelvin Adams, superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, and June Fowler, vice president of corporate and public communications at BJC HealthCare.

Adams said that the program “gives us a chance to work collaboratively with key leaders in our state to give our young people both the academic training and the skills they need to succeed in a challenging labor market. It will give us a chance to set our young people on a path to success.”

For Fowler, the program represents an opportunity for BJC to have a greater pool of potential employees.

“Our state’s health-care sector continues to need qualified young people to fill positions,” she said. “Pathways to Prosperity will assist us in creating a plan that ensures we have the workforce ready to fill these jobs.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education noted that for every 100 students in ninth grade in Missouri, only 21 of them will earn a four-year college degree – a definite financial disadvantage when you consider that even among those under the age of 25 who do have a college degree, as many as half may be unemployed or underemployed.

For those with no high school diploma or no training after high school, the situation is even worse.

In Illinois, only about 37 percent of students graduate with a bachelor’s degree within four years while 61 percent of full-time students and 23 percent of those going part time have earned a degree within six years.

The Illinois effort will combine work by six state agencies to develop different career paths for students leaving high school.

The Harvard report noted that rather than focus only on a four-year college degree, students need alternate pathways to success.

It called for a three-pronged approach to solving the problem:

  •  A broader vision of school reform
  •  A stronger effort by employers
  •  A new social compact between society and young people starting out in the workforce.

“We are the only developed nation that depends so exclusively on its higher education system as the sole institutional vehicle to help young people transition from secondary school to careers, and from adolescence to adulthood,” said Robert Schwartz, one of the leaders of the project.

“Unless we are willing to provide more flexibility and choice in the last two years of high school, and more opportunities for students to pursue program options that link work and learning, we will continue to lose far too many young people along the path to graduation.”