Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope once said, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.”
University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs invoked the saying at the North Georgia Regional Education Summit Friday morning, which hosted educators, policy makers and members of the business community at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
The summit’s keynote speaker, Dana Rickman from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, focused on the economics of education and Georgia public education data.
Early learning vital for long-term success
Rickman opened the day’s event advocating for a “stronger educational pipeline,” arguing finance drives education just as it does any other business sector.
“For every $1 you invest in early learning, you recoup seven [dollars] down the line,” she said. “The higher the degree a [person] has, the lower percentage of unemployment rate.”
Rickman presented data backing her claim, saying, “education pays,” both individually and communally.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from Sept. 2016 showed the unemployment rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree was 2.5 percent and a person’s average approximate annual earnings were $65,000.
As highest completed level of education decreased, however, unemployment rate went up, Rickman saying the data shows a high correlation between the percentage of high school graduates and unemployment rates.
And even during the recession years of the late 2000s, the pattern remained the same: unemployment was down among those with higher education degrees.
“During the recession, unemployment rate [for a Bachelors degree or higher] was at about 3.9 percent,” Rickman said. “For those with less than a high school diploma, the number jumped to almost 19 percent.”
Sept. 2016 data showed the unemployment rate at 8.5 percent for Americans who had less than a high school diploma.
Rickman also stressed the individual and communal repercussions of high school non-completion.
At an individual level, she said, those who do not finish high school have lower lifetime earnings, decreased health status, higher mortality rates and more criminal activity.
Non-completion also leads to increased teen pregnancy rates, single motherhood, less voting and less community volunteering.
These individual consequences directly impact the larger community, leading to reduced buying power and tax revenues, less economic growth and higher healthcare and criminal justice costs.
Additionally, those with less education raise public service costs and reduce the amount of community involvement.
This is why, Rickman said, it is essential to begin early.
“If a child can’t read by third or fourth grade, they are much more likely to not graduate high school, get into juvenile trouble and have higher pregnancy rates,” she said.
And, she added, those who are not numerically literate by eighth grade are also a concern, given more and more future jobs will be in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Public schools vital to development
But she praised schools in their work to push students through, especially in Forsyth County.
“Our education systems work well to get kids through the pipeline,” she said.
It’s now about “insulating” that pipeline to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks.
Rickman said early childhood insulation means reading to children daily and encouraging participation in early learning and educational daycare centers.
For children in the K-12 system, she said after school programs, civic opportunities, AP courses and internships and mentorships are key.
Finally, for those who make it to post-secondary school, academic support, internships, apprenticeships and other job training programs are necessary.
Forsyth County is succeeding in many of these areas, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said.
“We have 37 schools and are the seventh-largest district in the state out of 180 districts in Georgia,” he said. “But we have the highest CCRPI score in Georgia, the highest graduation rate in metro-Atlanta and in Forsyth County Schools’ history and the highest financial efficiency rating in Georgia – the only five star rating in the state.”
CCRPI data looks at college and career readiness performance.
“You know we have a 94% grad rate in Forsyth County, but for those in workforce development pathways, the grad rate is 98%.” he said. “That’s why [the] Alliance Academy is so timely.”
The Alliance Academy for Innovation Cumming-Forsyth County, which is scheduled to open in August 2018, is being touted as a “multi-purpose workforce development campus.”
Though Bearden estimates the school will have 600 enrolled students when it opens, full capacity will be 1,200.
He said he anticipates it to be a success, with students from the academy likely moving on to UNG and Lanier Technical College.