By Dr. Linda Young
Why is a high school diploma so important to all students as we approach the year 2010? Why do we say: “Graduate from High School or Graduate to Prison?” What are the future implications for those students who do not complete the credit requirements needed for graduation, specifically for those students who drop out of school? It can’t be overstated that a lack of a high school diploma has more negative implications to a student’s future than any other educational indicator. It gets worse! Lacking a high school diploma means there is limited or weak future career/job options in students’ lives. That becomes more than a dream deferred but a dream that has often turned into a students’ worst nightmare!
The United Negro College Fund got it right when they stated in their poignant theme: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”. What must be added to wasted minds are wasted lives and potentially wasted human resources that should have had a solid place in the future of a progressive and technical United States’ and global economy. The American future job forecast appears to have left out a significant number of minority males, i.e., African, Hispanic, and Native Americans who have been targeted to fill inmate vacancies in the United States Prison system. The success ratio odds are against students who do not graduate from high school. They have limited job opportunities, higher opportunities for incarceration for some 60% of non-graduate students. These students have wasted technical skill development, and a documented data trend that the cycle will repeat itself in the next generation of these students’ families, and then their families, and so on.
For example, the conversation goes like this: “Well, his father served 15-20 years for burglary; and isn’t it ironical that some 20 years later the judge gave him the same time for the same crime as his father.” There is research that supports that like family careers tend to perpetuate from generation to generation. If you come from a family of teachers, their off springs will have a greater chance of becoming teachers, doctors, politicians, bankers, lawyers and etc. Why is this the case? I believe because of following patterns: you model behavior that you see and you’re around, often participate in some way through dialogue, attend events, hear conversations about the profession; you grow up in the environment; and finally you may receive the encouragement to enter into the profession through your parents or others in the field who you may frequently see and interact with.
Just as these indicators work in the positive for respected careers, they work equally as well in the negative for careers that are not respected or revered by the established society. The, “Like father, like son,” adage has some ring of truth to it. Career criminals end up with son(s) and/or daughters who model them by displaying the same characteristic and expectations of challenging and breaking laws and societal rules. These law/rule breakers are often at the top of the educational list in dropping out of school and not graduating from high school.
For example, the share of young black men who have not graduated and those without jobs have climbed relentlessly, with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990’s. In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20’s were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20’s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000. This trend increased to over 50% in 2008 and continues to climb by 3.5% during 2009. What’s driving this dismal picture of joblessness especially for men of color?
Part of this dismal picture includes not only the jobless rate but how the incarceration rates has climbed in the 1990’s and reached historic highs in 2005 and is absolutely shooting through the roof in 2008. The data shows that student dropouts, joblessness, and incarceration are all clustered together in a negative downward spiral. For example: in 1995, 16 percent of black men in their 20’s who did not attend college were in jail or prison; by 2004, 21 percent were incarcerated. In 2006-2007, by their mid-30’s, 6 in 10 black men who had dropped out of school had spent time in prison. In 2007-2008, in the inner cities, more than half of all black men do not finish high school and half of those men who do not complete high school end up in prison. This trend of a lack of high school graduation and then graduating into the prison system for black men is mirrored also for Hispanic and Native American males. The high correlation between limited to poor education and incarceration is at epidemic proportions in the United States. We are taking our best and brightest and locking up talents and brilliance that was never developed or utilized. This is a crisis unparalleled in the history of the United States.
A study by Harvard researchers noted that nearly 30 percent of U.S. youths don’t graduate on time with classmates, and the dropout rate rises to 35 percent in the South. Especially, blacks, Hispanics and American Indian teens are washing out at horrendous rates. In 2007-2008, the Nevada Annual Report of Accountability indicates that in Nevada, 67.4% of all students graduate. In the Clark County School Districts overall graduation rate is 63%. Listed below is the student high school graduation rate for the following ethnic breakdowns: American Indian – 51%; Asian/Pacific Islander – 76.4%; Hispanic – 51.9%; Black/African American – 52.0%; and White – 71.4%. In the CCSD, that indicates that approximately 37% of the student population does not graduate from high school which means that 1/3 of the students and nearly half of American Indian, Hispanic and Black students don’t graduate from high school. If they don’t graduate to careers, then where do they go. Just read on!
“Failure to graduate triples one’s chances of going to jail,” a news report said, adding that, “spending on jails and prisons in most U.S. state including Nevada far outstripped education spending in the last 20 years.” One researcher estimated that, because of the high dropout rate, “the increased incarceration cost for the states is excessive in the United States that goes in the billions of dollars.”
Roughly 60% of jobs require some type of training or education beyond high school and most institutions of higher education want applicants to be high school graduates. According to the Education Commission of the States, high school graduates earn higher salaries, so are less likely to depend on public assistance, to have health problems, or to engage in criminal activity. A higher level of education typically means better employment prospects and increased personal satisfaction.
A high school diploma can be a ticket to moving into higher education. Colleges and universities require students to have a diploma in order to enroll. Some also accept applicants who have a GED, but all accept the traditional diploma. Today, college or a technical school may be more important than ever before. Not only is it beneficial for students who want successful careers later in life, but it also provides an experience that students will remember forever. When students drop out of school, we call that the million dollar ($1,000,000) mistake. Let’s do all that we can in the home, school, community, church, business, organizations, higher education, and in other groups to keep students progressing in our educational system. The fabric of our homes, community, and nation depends on quality education of the students we have today. Keeping students in school literally keeps most students out of prison. The path to success is more than just staying in school. It’s staying connected to life, to the future, to the positive energy of belief, hope, and to the future of students’ dreams.