Last month, at the first-ever Graduation Matters Montana Summit, business and community leaders joined school districts from thirty communities to focus on improving student achievement and graduation rates in Montana. These business and community partners have stepped up because they understand that each of us has a role to play in supporting student success and that public education directly impacts Montana’s economic future.
Business leaders from State Farm Insurance, First Interstate Bank, Mountain West Broadcasting and PRO Outfitters discussed how educators and businesses can work together to support students and our economy. Businesses can help students make the connection between what they learn in school and the skills they need in the work force. They encouraged educators to tap into their local businesses for job shadowing opportunities, internships and classroom presentations. They also discussed the importance of educators and businesses working together to help make students aware of the variety of jobs available in our state.
Our business leaders are looking for workers not only with academic skills but also critical thinking and communication skills, creativity, adaptability, resilience and the ability to work in teams.
From the very beginning, I have known that in order for Graduation Matters Montana to be successful, entire communities will need to work together to get the job done. The economic future of our state depends on a quality public education system. As Montana citizens, we must get involved in supporting the students who will lead our state into the future.
Today’s students are your future customers, employees, tax payers, board members, parents and community leaders. If we don’t provide them with a quality education, opportunities to explore careers and seek out mentors, and encourage them to go on to college or skills training programs, we won’t have the bright future that all of us want for our state.
More and more, our kids are going to need training after high school to compete for jobs in today’s 21st century economy. By 2018, more than 60 percent of jobs are going to require training and education beyond high school. Compare that to 1973, when only 28 percent of jobs required education after high school. Workers in Montana who didn’t finish high school are making on average $9 per hour, while college graduates make on average $17 per hour. We cannot expect to have a booming economy on $9 per hour wages.
The changing demands of our economy require greater collaboration between K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and businesses. I commend the school districts that have signed on to become Graduation Matters communities. They are committing to take a hard look at their data, be open with their communities about their challenges, open their doors to new partnerships and embrace the hard work of graduating every student prepared for college and the work force.
Montana students are capable of developing the skills necessary to succeed in a global economy. We need to challenge them, provide them with opportunities for relevant, engaging classes and work experiences and allow them to rise to the challenge.
Students are asking us for these opportunities and these relationships. I challenge Montana’s business community to seek out ways they can be involved in local and statewide Graduation Matters efforts and continue to make a difference in the lives of students in their communities. For ideas of ways to support students and a list of current Graduation Matters communities, go to our website: graduationmatters.mt.gov.
Denise Juneau is Montana’s superintendent of public instruction.