Can Small Business Be the Missing Link to Education Success?

Posted on December 9, 2009
by FeliciaOctocog

In the city of Chicago, for every 100 children entering high school, only 6 will finish college.

In Boston, 2/3 of all students who go on to college have not graduated after 7 years.

And, while I could not find similar statistics for my smaller urban city, Salem,  we can extrapolate from statewide averages and from the data that is available on drop out rates and high school graduation plans,  to estimate that 30 students out of the original 100 will finish college.

When you look at subgroups by income, ethnicity and gender, the numbers look appalling. For Hispanics (32% of Salem Public), or low-income (50%), the number drops to 14. . And the number drops further for males in this demographic.

Last year, 21% of our students in Salem public schools failed or scored Needs Improvement in English, 39% in math and 56% in science. If you look at low income or Hispanic demographics those numbers increase by 50%

This failure to keep these kids in school and provide them with the tools and confidence to complete some post-secondary education does not portend well for our community, our businesses or our civic engagement or our economic growth.

Let’s now look at population growth projections for this area.  Over the last several years, the population in Essex County grew by just under 2%, all of that growth was fueled by immigrants. Without the immigrant population, we would have had a net decrease in population.  The number of immigrant students (primary language is not English) in the Salem Public Schools is now 32%. This number does not count the number of students born here living in a home where English is not spoken.

Let’s now spend just a few minutes on the gender gap.  57% of college students are now women.  In the last two years over 2/3 of all high valedictorians in the North Shore area were girls and similar numbers for those finishing in the top 10 of their class. The concern here is obvious.  Our failure to educate our young men will stress our families, and our communities, including increases in incarceration and families needing financial supports.

The stats I just rattled off describe the supply side of the equation. These are the college grads who will be entering the labor pool to fill an increasingly sophisticated and complex array of jobs requiring good English, analytical and creative problem solving skills. The statistics are depressing.

Now let’s look at one segment of the demand side of the equation. The need for an educated labor pool will increase as the baby boom generation starts to retire.

The average age of retirement in 62. Over the next two decades, an average of 10,000 baby boomers per DAY will begin to retire.  It is estimated that the remaining labor pool will not be large enough to fill this hole and that is not even taking into consideration the possibility of a huge skill gap in that pool.

In the copious research studies and reports on the state of education there are many references to extended days, smaller class sizes, enhanced teacher training, adult mentoring, more wrap-around services, alternative education paths. But missing from many of these discussions is the role of business. While many reports do list Connecting school to college and career by providing internships and career explorations, none specifically call out business to play a role in any of these initiatives.

Nationwide, business contributes in money and in-kind services, about $2.5 billion or .5% of the total spent in K-12 education. Businesses list education as the top priority for their philanthropic efforts. The US Chamber of Commerce launched its Business Education Network in 2005 which has now morphed into the Institute for A Competitive Workforce.  They produced a report in 2005 outlining the ways in which large national businesses support education through scholarships, support for youth education programs such as Gear Up, teacher mentoring, free business consulting to education administrators. However, lacking in the list of services were mentoring, tutoring and hiring of teenagers.

Why should business spend a greater share of its dollars and time in mentoring tutoring and hiring of teenagers?  Because, in this way, employers not only give these kids a needed source of income and help them develop work readiness skills, but much more importantly can give them a supporting one-on-one relationship with caring adults who can not only be a role model but a mentor. This is called social capital.

Social capital is a youth’s social network of people within the community that can increase the student’s productivity and probability of success. Social capital can come in the form of a teacher, coach, minister/priest or rabbi, foster parent a mentor, tutor or employer. And employer…. Most students, who are at-risk academically, do not find social capital in the schools.  Teachers and guidance counselors simply have too many students and not enough time to spend with each. It can, and does happen, but not for enough youth.  Because these students are not failing and are not behavioral problems they are able to fly under the radar, never being pushed, and sadly never understanding or believing in their own potential for improvement.

Students who hold jobs while in high school not only have a lower drop-out rate but go to college in larger numbers, are less likely to be unemployed and earn higher wages after they graduate. Contrary to conventional wisdom, having a part-time job increases a student’s academic success.

I believe a large part of this is the social capital at work.