Commentary: Eight ways to lift up grads who aren’t going to college

By Dan Shortridge
Posted 1/16/22

With a high school senior in the family, graduation has been on our calendar since the summer — and it’s now directly in our sights.

But pomp and circumstance shouldn’t make us …

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Commentary: Eight ways to lift up grads who aren’t going to college

Posted

With a high school senior in the family, graduation has been on our calendar since the summer — and it’s now directly in our sights.

But pomp and circumstance shouldn’t make us lose sight of the fact that 4 out of 10 of the young women and men who will be tossing their caps won’t be going to college directly after graduation.

Delaware has put a tremendous amount of resources into supporting college-bound students — most notably through the Student Excellence Equals Degree and Inspire scholarships, which are truly life-changing tools. More than 2,500 students received those scholarships in 2019-20.

But those programs don’t help 40% of our seniors. Delaware’s career-bound graduates need more support in their job opportunities, training options and transitions into the workforce.

The new Focus on Alternative Skills Training Program, or FAST, which launches this fall, may pilot a path to support noncollege-bound grads that could rival SEED. Apprenticeships, trade schools and other nondegree programs will all have their doors opened with scholarships up to $10,000.

“I want to normalize postsecondary vocational training to the point that it is a viable and attractive alternative to getting young adults into well-paying jobs,” said lead sponsor state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.

FAST exists thanks to a bipartisan team, including Pettyjohn and Reps. Bill Bush, D-Dover, and Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, among others — but it’s just a start.

As a pilot, it has enough initial funding — around $1 million — for only about 100 or so students at full scholarship levels, though federal funding is expected to help that grow.

The General Assembly must put real resources behind this initiative, and our schools should promote FAST scholarships as much as Free Application for Federal Student Aid workshops.

How can you help high school students on this path?

  • If you’re a business owner in one of the 25 Delaware Pathways fields: Connect with your local high school and offer a job to a student doing work-based learning or a co-op program.
  • If you’re sponsoring a local scholarship: Rewrite the terms, so it can be used by graduates going to trade schools or pursuing independent certifications or licenses, not just going to college.
  • If you’re a community leader recognizing outstanding students: Include the graduates joining the Marines and going to auto tech schools, alongside the ones earning full rides.
  • If you’re a school administrator: Overhaul your graduation ceremonies and recognition events to honor the kids going into electrical apprenticeships or attending cosmetology school, just as much as the ones earning large scholarships or scoring touchdowns.
  • If you’re a nonprofit donor: Support gap year programs. We need to normalize students taking a break after the emotional pressure cooker of senior year to do community service, travel, learn a skill or study a language before leaping into college, training or the workforce.
  • If you’re a state legislator: Put a proportional amount of money behind programs such as FAST and the Elevate Delaware Program that will strengthen support systems for these students. Drop the SAT as a measure of performance. Mandate personal-finance classes. And expand our vocational-technical high schools, so more students can reap the benefits of that unique environment.
  • If you’re one of the half-dozen people eyeing a run for governor in two years: Make careers a major part of your platform. Select a secretary of education from a vocational-technical background. Choose a secretary of labor who will be an innovator. Plan to increase our investments in career pathways across the board.
  • If you’re a parent: Recognize that your neighbors’ social media portrayals aren’t real and that not every child goes to college. Support your new graduate’s dreams, no matter where their plans take them.

 

Dan Shortridge of Dover is a writer and father of three. He holds a Master of Education in instructional design and previously led marketing and communications for the Sussex Technical School District.