Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Salaries and Level of Education Go Hand in Hand

Census data yields all kinds of interesting patterns, including inspiring my last blog entry .  Another set of data that has recently come to light is the financial value of post-secondary education.
In this report, the average annual salary in today's society for someone who did not graduate from high school is in the low $20,000 range.  If someone's highest level of education is an associate's degree, they are averaging in the low $40,000 range.  For someone with a bachelor's degree it is just under $60,000, and for someone with a professional degree (M.D., J.D.) it is over $100,000 a year.

What does this tell us?  That education matters.  The report discusses how the education level is the most important factor, by far, over any other--culture, race, and class.  This is not to say other variables do not play a role--women make less than men, and Hispanic men and women make less than other cultural groups.  However, it is the highest level of education attained that is the primary factor.

Thus, students dropping out of high school are being set up to have limited resources throughout their lives.  To start, what can we do to help prevent students from dropping out?

In a May 2010 article in ASCA's School Counselor magazine entitled "Mission: A Drop in Dropouts," Robert Rothman discusses the components of a school-wide program to help prevent students from dropping out:
  • Literacy Instruction:  As school counselors, we can advocate for elective classes in literacy if your school does not already have them.  In Fairfax County, there are several course offering for students to assist them with building reading and writing skills.  These students receive elective credits for these courses that count towards their graduation requirements while helping them to build skills that will help them in their other required courses.  
  • Data Systems:  In our work as school counselors we tend to have access to the data to identify students most at risk of dropping out--current and past grades, test scores, and attendance.  After identifying those students we can then develop interventions--groups, individual counseling, family components--and track student progress, reviewing the data from time to time to determine how effective our programs are.  
  • Personalization:  School counselors can play a key role in personalizing the school with at-risk students.  By meeting with these students, checking up on them with their teachers and parents, and celebrating their successes, we are letting them know that someone cares about their academic success and thus their future.  We are giving them at least one person in their school to trust, rely on, and connect with.
Further, what this census article tells us is that not only that it is important for students to get a high-school diploma, but it is also important for them to get some form of post-secondary education.  The plan will be different for every student, but there are enough options out there for all, whether it be a community college or technical school, or a four-year university.  Many schools and school districts have developed planning and goal setting materials, or they utilize a computer program such as Naviance which provides valuable career, goal, planning, and post-secondary resources and an ability for students, parents, and counselors to track this information throughout a student's entire career in their own individual accounts.  Regardless of how it is done, meeting with all of your students to help them develop and realize their post-secondary goals is one of the most important aspects of a school counselor's job.  As I often tell my students, there is a lot of variation with what education students will get after high school.  Some will go to school for the next 10 years and become medical doctors, others will do a two-year associate's degree at NOVA and go straight into the workforce as an auto-mechanic. The point is that they need to have some post-secondary training of some kind to give themselves a fighting chance--and now we have the statistics to back that up.

The following work-cited in this article is available for members at the American School Counselors Association website:
Rothman, R.  (2010).  Mission:  A Drop in Dropouts.  School Counselor (May 2010).

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