The following letter was written by STC Cleveland’s Regional Council Chair Rich Clark, and was featured in Saint Martin de Porres High School’s Fall 2015 Newsletter. We reprint it here because the themes are so resonant with our mission of closing the opportunity and skills gap, and because it provides a glimpse into an exciting new partnership initiative that we are exploring. Thanks for sharing, Rich!
“Educators oftentimes tout college as the golden ticket to the middle class. However, with tuition prices rocketing and the underemployment rate for recent college graduates creeping up, many have criticized the “college or bust” mantra. Consequently, students are pursuing alternative pathways to prosperity.
If the ultimate goal is for young people to find a fulfilling, living-wage job/career, how are colleges making this connection between K-12 education and career?
They are not.
Interestingly enough, 72 percent of educators believe that curriculum adequately prepares students for work. Meanwhile, only 42 percent of employers agree that recent college grads are competent for entry-level positions. Students are equally disappointed, with less than half reporting that post-secondary studies prepared them for their job.
As a result, half of young adults with college degrees are either unemployed or underemployed. For black young adults, this statistic reaches as high as 68 percent.”
– from Schools That Can
Over the years at Saint Martin we have had many success stories of students going directly to college, graduating, and finding employment, including three of our own employees: Tyler Hughley, Keyoni Rates, and Sam Musser! There are also stories that have some our graduates without degrees, or even with degrees, and saddled with high tuition debt and no good job.
Through our collaboration with Schools That Can we are exploring these alternative pathways to college and employment. Specifically, we were chosen as a test site to try out a unique way of “skinning the cat.” We have had several meetings with Joe Kitterman, the founder of 180Skills (www.180skills.com), and his staff along with several of our work-study partners, including ABB, Parker Hannifin, and Lincoln Electric. During these meetings, we listen to our partners to find out what skills they need in new employees, so that we can help our students develop truly employable skill sets so they have options after graduating.
180Skills is an expert at technical skill development. They have over 6,000 modules of online training that are directly tied to industry needs and skills. Their current partners in this work are Boeing, Parker and other well-known international companies. They are also equipped to design specific modules for each company as needed.
Until now, we have been exclusively committed to one pathway: do well in high school, immediately enroll in college, get job. The new pathway we are envisioning is: do well in high school and work towards online certifications for skills in demand by our work study partners, get employed, and then in two years begin to explore post-secondary education. In truth, this is what many of us did. We worked and went to school at night, on weekends, or online to get a Bachelors or Graduate degree. The advantages are many, especially: having a good idea of what you want to pursue academically, knowing what skills you need for work, and of course increased maturity and sense of self. And the cherry on top? In many cases, the employer will pay part or all of the education, dramatically limiting college debt.
At Saint Martin, our college counselors have recently begun more intentionally urging our students to go to colleges they can afford and study in a field where there are jobs. Some of our students are not ready for that and have been going to Cleveland Community College (“Tri-C”). This “e2e” program will provide our students with an option to pursue a new pathway to college. This is an exciting idea that we believe will appropriately fit the needs of some, though not all, of our students. We will begin offering this option in the second semester to members of the Class of 2016 who plan to attend Tri-C.
The downside of the traditional college pathway is that many students end up with high debt, no degree, and/or few skills for the workplace. The downside to the e2e option is that some students may decide down the road not to attend college, which we know can positively change the life trajectory of students from low-income communities. However, if one of our alums makes that choice for himself, we would feel much more confident in that decision since he will still have meaningful employment, valuable skills for a medium to high skill job, and he would be in a financially sustainable position considering the earning potential (entry level jobs for these industries make about $40,000) and the avoidance of student debt.
Stay tuned as we learn more about this exciting opportunity.
Rich Clark is the founding President of Saint Martin de Porres High School. Rich earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Georgetown University and has a Master’s in Religious Education from Loyola University, Chicago. Rich taught theology from 1973-1991 at his alma mater, Loyola Academy. In 1991, he became first lay principal at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland where he worked until he founded Saint Martin de Porres High School. In addition to being a part of the Schools That Can network, Saint Martin is also a Cristo Rey school. If you have questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.