High school graduation news an important step forward

The announcement this week that the U.S. high school graduation rate reached a new record high is important news. Education is a cornerstone for success in school, work and life. Graduating high school opens more doors for advancement, stability and prosperity.

For years, United Way has made high school graduation a key component of our education work. We have long-recognized that high school graduates have a higher earning potential, contribute more to their local economies, and are more engaged in their communities.

We’ve gone about our work in partnership with everyone from national organizations, such as America’s Promise Alliance, to local leaders. We have relationships at all levels of society – and we’ve put them to use in pursuit of raising the high school graduation rate.

Take the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. For years, this local United Way partnered with AT&T and General Motors to focus on high school turnaround efforts. They sought to improve low-performing schools in Detroit by committing to a high school graduation rate of 80 percent or better. Today, United Way-supported high schools in Detroit have an 86 percent graduation rate, up from 65 percent in 2011.

How about Orange County, California? The United Way of Orange County knows that, on average, school dropouts earn less than high school graduates. Their Destination Graduation initiative seeks to increase graduation rates by improving teacher training and parenting effectiveness and getting kids engaged in potential careers. To date, more than 26,000 students have received mentoring, tutoring and career planning help.

United Ways across the U.S. and the world have similar programs that help students get a head start on their education, succeed in school and receive a high school degree. In fact, fully 93 percent of United Ways in the U.S. work to drive students towards their diploma.

In today’s globalized world, however, we need to continue reaching even higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person with a bachelor’s degree makes nearly 68 percent more than a person with a high school degree.

The point is this: furthering one’s education is critical. You can attend community college, get a bachelor’s degree, or pursue everyone’s childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. But as long as technologies continue to advance and we compete for work with people and nations beyond our immediate neighborhoods, increasing educational attainment is paramount. It levels the playing field and creates new possibilities.

Whenever I travel, I hear stories that illustrate this point. From big cities to rural communities, people want more ladders available to help them succeed. They want to know that if they work hard and play by the rules, that there will be a path to prosperity and happiness available to them.

Getting a high school degree and committing to education puts more ladders within reach. This week’s news demonstrates that our work is paying off, and it provides a blueprint for the success that is still to come.