Education at all levels drives individual and state success

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In a recent blog post Fox Valley Technical College president Dr. Susan May talks about bringing 'celebration season' to a close. Among the many celebratory events that took place at her college and the other 15 technical colleges in the state was the High School Completion event. In it, FVTC realized 450 degree earners from the Adult Basic Education program. Dr. May continues, "I would bet that most people aren't aware that FVTC supports the efforts of many people in our community in attaining their high school credential." FVTC and its community are not unique. Each of the technical colleges hosts a similar event each semester with a significant number of returning adults completing their high school diploma, although that's not the mission of the colleges, we do help people achieve their diplomas.

In a time when many people are discussing whether a higher education bubble exists, and whether traditional college is worth the cost, NPR's Planet Money shows the value of a college degree, demonstrating how much higher unemployment is for those with a high school degree versus a college degree. Furthermore, the gap between earnings of the high school graduates and the college graduates is also significant; as wages for high school graduates have actually fallen when accounting for inflation.

Upholding convention, the U.S. Census Bureau's data shows that the higher a person's education level, the higher their earnings potential. Specifically, workers without a high school diploma average $18,734, those with a high school diploma earn $27,915 and those with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $51,206 a year (The median salary for associate degree holders from Wisconsin's Technical Colleges just six months after graduating is $35,700). As a community and state, we need to emphasize the need for adults to complete their high school diploma, and encourage them to go on from there, in addition to promoting the benefits of post-secondary education.

Even with the costs involved, most people still recognize the value a college education. Perhaps we need to re-frame the discussion. Everyone deserves encouragement to continue their education even before they fall behind. Society takes it for granted that everyone receives a high school diploma, and while most do, those that fall behind often suffer critical setbacks. Where do these adults who haven't completed high school turn when they decide they need to receive their degree? In Wisconsin, more often than not, they turn to the technical colleges. Consider Kristina, who found out quickly that earning money to raise her young family would be extremely difficult without at least a high school diploma and thus made her education a priority.

It's true that during a recession, a college degree is often a change agent for the underemployed or unemployed, but for many Wisconsin residents, we still need to recognize the critical importance of high school completion. We must also encourage confidence within these students to continue beyond the HSED and enroll in a postsecondary education program, and to continue from there, too. Rather than disputing education's value, perhaps we should make sure everyone gets a high school diploma, but also urge everyone to advance him or herself to the greatest degree possible.