Just another reason to earn a diploma

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 22, 2015

A recent article by economics correspondent Neil Erwin in the New York Times (Why American Workers Without Much Education Are Being Hammered, April 21, 2015) adds to the myriad of reasons why students should earn a high school diploma or equivalent. The crux of the author’s writing describes the plight of American workers without a high school diploma; especially in the period from 1990 to 2013.
In the article, Erwin references research that shows that those with little education have suffered from wage deflation during this 23-year period. This is a group that suffers from low wages anyway; it is very difficult to obtain a job with a life sustaining wage without an education.
There was once a period in this country when people without a high school education could enter the workforce, especially in manufacturing and construction, and learn a skill while on the job. This career pathway would then lead to higher wage opportunities that provided a self-sustaining wage. However, that is no longer the case.
Those without education and skills, as Erwin asserts, have been relegated to jobs as service workers in the food industry and other low wage paying areas.
So where does that leave individuals without a high school diploma and other credentials necessary to enter higher paying jobs? One option is a return to the classroom and work towards an alternate to the high school diploma; often referred to as the General Equivalency Diploma (GED). A GED is recognized by industry, colleges and universities, and others in the same light as a traditional high school diploma.
A GED opens the door for admittance into college or into jobs that require a high school diploma. However, in today’s economy, employers often seek other credentials, coupled with a high school diploma, in order to gain entry into the workforce.
Typically, for a high school dropout to earn college credentials, the GED credential must first be attained. Many go to their local community college to begin this process which can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, depending on the student’s level of skill upon entry. Add that to the time it takes to earn a college certificate or degree, typically a minimum of one year, and the total time overwhelms the student, leading to non-completion.
During the past few years, several groups including Jobs for the Future, the National Council for Workforce Education, the American Association for Community Colleges and others have sought out innovations and ideas to speed up the path for a student attempting to earn a GED and industry recognized credentials.
One such innovative model that has emerged is a program originated in the Washington State Community and Technical College system. The program, termed Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST), allows students to enter high school level classes (i.e. GED classes) while also integrating professional, technical and career based classes into the curriculum. The integration, or co-enrollment, with career and technical classes speeds up students’ progress while in school.
Research by Columbia University finds the I-BEST Program is effective at improving educational outcomes for these at risk students. This is indeed important.
As baby boomers continue their exodus from the workforce to retirement and as the economy continues to grow and jobs are created, the need for skilled workers is projected to continue a rapid growth.
Washington’s success has eased the path for other colleges around the nation to mimic this practice. Here at Pearl River Community College students seeking a GED that have the necessary requisite ability, as demonstrated by an Ability to Benefit Test, may enter college level classes in certain career pathways.
While in these classes, and like the Washington State model prescribes, students receive special services such as tutoring, contextualized instruction, and other help as needed. This assistance is absolutely necessary in helping these students along these career pathways. Without it, the vicious cycle of dropping out of school is highly probable.
At the end of the day, the edict for PRCC, as well as the other 1,200 plus community colleges nationwide, is to prepare people for the workforce. As older workers bid adieu to their jobs and the economy continues to blossom, this decree becomes stronger.

By Scott Alsobrooks

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