Schools, businesses help transitioning graduates

Published 8:30 pm Thursday, May 23, 2019

As of Saturday evening, all five high schools in Troup County will have sent their respective graduating classes to the next stage of life, which will look different for each. For some graduates, this ‘next stage’ will include some form of post-secondary education, for others it will include military service and for others still it will take the form of an integration into the professional world. It is this last group we want to focus on today.

First, some background. Throughout the last 50-plus years in American society, a college education has served as the cultural and figurative key to unlocking the upper echelon of social status and earning potential. The quickest avenue toward upward mobility in this country has been intrinsically linked with a college degree for decades, as generations of parents have instilled this idea into their children, who have thus passed this down to their own.

This long-held belief still holds water today, as a college degree does still comparatively accomplish this objective. When comparing lifetime earning potentials side-by-side, those who earn college degrees bring home considerable more income than those who do not. A 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that those with bachelor’s degrees bring home, on average, $461 more per week than those with only a high school diploma. Extrapolated over the course of 45 years, that leads to an average difference of more than $1 million in lifetime earning potential.

The above is a statistical fact, showing the opportunities a college degree can unlock. However, as the price of a four-year college degree continues to skyrocket, at what point does the prospect of attending college prove to be a diminishing return?

A 2018 Forbes article sites that collegiate student debt is now the second-largest chunk of all U.S. debt, behind only housing debt. The price of a college degree has been consistently increasing since the 1980s, as Forbes points out the average price for all four-year institutions, combining private and public universities, comes out to approximately $26,120 per year, or $104,480 for four years.

The comparable cost for the same degree in 1989 was $29,902, or $52,892 adjusted for inflation.

That price increase has outpaced national wage increases over the same period of time nearly eight times over. Simply put, each successive collegiate graduating class over this time period has been in a more challenging financial position than the last, and there is no end to this pattern in sight.

In recent years, more and more individuals and communities have performed more stringent cost-benefit analyses of attending college, and potentially exiting with a substantial debt load, versus entering the professional realm after high school. As this analysis is performed and reconciled in a broad number of ways, LaGrange and Troup County have developed real, stable opportunities for students wishing to enter the job market after high school.

Earlier this week, THINC Academy held a ceremony for 25 students who signed contracts to begin work locally with eight major manufacturers, preparing them for life after high school. Approximately 30 students who will graduate from Troup County High School this evening recently signed contacts with manufacturing companies as well, thanks to a partnership between the school system and the LaGrange Development Authority through the School 2 Work program. Jackson Services also recently hired five Callaway High School seniors who completed the company’s HVAC pathway, paving the way for them to move into full time employment.

The above are just a few examples of the opportunities and partnerships that have been developed locally that make the transition from high school to the workforce both easier and more palatable for some students. These opportunities help address local workforce development issues as well, but at their core they provide young people with opportunity to work and earn a livable wage.

The decision to attend college or enter the workforce after high school is one for each individual to make. However, it is encouraging to see our local schools and businesses proactively offer opportunities to students who want to work hard and contribute to our community.